If you know me, we’ve been down this road before. I’ve been screaming about Jeff Rosenstock’s now defunct musical project Bomb The Music Industry! and what it means to me for years now to anyone who will listen. Somehow, after all this time, I’ve never written about any single one of their albums (although I’ve given a summary of their history here). As I was considering which of their albums to dive into, my first reaction was to go with my personal favorite, Get Warmer, or maybe one that I feel has the most significance, either Vacation or Scrambles, potentially. In the end, the choice became clear: Goodbye Cool World is most Bomb The Music Industry! album of them all, and I believe that deserves recognition. While I may prefer some of their other albums, Goodbye Cool World is the perfect picture of the insanity, bravery, and passion that has come to define this project for me over the years. Simply put, it’s a mess, but a mess that only Jeff Rosenstock could have made.
To quickly summarize, Bomb The Music Industry! is a project that New York-based punk musician Jeff Rosenstock created in 2004 after the dissolution of his previous band, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches. Bomb The Music Industry! was formed with a few mission statements: no merch, no charge for the music, and only all ages shows. The band pressed on with a revolving door lineup, sometimes with only Rosenstock and an iPod, until they called it quits in 2014, paving the way for Rosenstock to have a successful career under his own name that he still continues with today.
Goodbye Cool World is the final Bomb The Music Industry! album that featured Rosenstock’s outrageous talent as a one man band before he found some consistent musicians to form his backing band on Get Warmer. He wrote, played, and programmed all the instruments himself (barring some bass tracks here and there), while also playing the role of a one man production team, producing and releasing the record himself on his donation-based label Quote Unquote Records as he had done for all previous and future Bomb The Music Industry! records. These limitations, however, do not impede Rosenstock from doing whatever he damn well pleases on every song on this album, and the result is a manic, glorious calamity.
From the getgo you’re greeted with Tobias Funke proclaiming “Let the great experiment begin!” as if to summarize the conception of Bomb The Music Industry! as a project as well as the album itself. Without giving you time to process, the song launches into a blazing punk catastrophe that features Rosenstock, as always, at the helm yelling and screaming for his dear life about rent and a world that’s moving on without him.
While this opening track might serve as a minute-long microcosm for what’s to come, the next track, “King of Minneapolis Pts. I & II”, is where the album really reveals itself. From this point on to the next 30 or so minutes, you are a ping-pong ball being whacked back and forth on a table made from anxiety and financial insecurity, and Jeff Rosenstock is playing both sides. Even on this second track, you’re launched from Rosenstock’s near-unintelligible boozy panic attack into the acoustic-led second half of the song, where the now slower tempo seems to actually match up with the lyrics, especially compared to Rosenstock triumphantly yelling “I finally drank myself to death!” just a couple minutes prior.
What I don’t want to get lost here, or in the rest of this discussion about the album, is the absolute musical talent that is on display that can get obfuscated by the madness. It’s truly mystifying to me how Rosenstock crafted something that sounds like this, let alone how he made it sound so damn natural. The instrumentals are exceedingly complex (even if you can’t always hear them clearly), the melodies are infectious, and the ideas and structures that drive the songs are extraordinarily ambitious. With songs like “King of Minneapolis pts I & II” it can be hard to hear the genius, but the next track, “Even Winning Feels Bad”, helps the songwriting shine in its more straightforward nature.
“Even Winning Feels Bad” is one of a number of songs on this record where Rosenstock reckons with his situation change from once promising ska punk bandleader to aging laptop-punk maverick. Truthfully, he was only 24 when the album released, but it’s to feel like you’re getting lapped in the ever-changing world of punk rock. Over a bouncing power pop instrumental, Rosenstock questions his detractors: “Would you like me if I stayed forever young?” This line runs parallel with the short but speedy “Fuck The Fans” later in the album, where Rosenstock observes, “You don’t like me anymore ’cause I’m not/In a marginally successful semi-regional punk rock band anymore”. The idea of alienation from these lines crops up in the album almost more than anything else, as the album is, in a sense, about the experience of being isolated physically and mentally from everything you’ve known.
It’s also a scathing critique of the various scenes Rosenstock has run through in his musical career, and what would a Bomb The Music Industry! album be without some meta industry shit talking? On the blistering “My Response To An Article In Alternative Press”, these scenes are laid to waste by a furious screed against them and their way of living. Rosenstock’s primary target here, and on many other Bomb The Music Industry! songs, are musicians who are more preoccupied with fame and image than “playing music you like instead of what some label says”. To him, they’re trend-chasers just looking for the next wave to catch on the way to stardom, and it’s easy to see how this would be offensive to someone who’s whole career is based on various leaps of faith and unbridled risk taking in the face of an industry that discourages it. The chorus of the track puts describes this mindest succinctly, “S-A-F-E YOU PLAY IT SAFE”.
He even turns towards his own peers for scolding on the next track “Sorry Brooklyn, Dancing Won’t Solve Anything”. The song is an ode to the consciously apathetic who view politics as a lost cause and would prefer to drink and dance their minds away from the issues. Instrumentally, the song is an appropriately chill ska jam made extra cheesy by multiple wailing saxophone solos. In line with the relaxed music, Rosenstock spends most of the song singing from the perspective of those he’s commenting on, only cutting in as himself to answer the question of “If ignorance is bliss, would you rather smile or fight?” with the declarative response “Well, I’ll take fight”. Even though he spends most of this album and his other albums practically baking in anxiety, Rosenstock is never one to ignore the issues for his own personal pleasure or relief.
While Rosenstock spends a lot of time on his abstract seclusion from the musical and artistic world, he also stops to consider his more physical loneliness on the two late album tracks “All Alone In My Big Empty Apartment” and “Grudge Report”. The former is a stripped down acoustic anthem about, as the title suggests, being lonely in your big empty apartment. I’ve made reference to Rosenstock’s skills as a technological one man band previously, but this track feels more like a classic, man-playing-guitar-with-a-drum-strapped-to-his-back type of affair. With ukulele, sparse percussion (a laundry bin, a set of keys, and a bag of pasta according to Rosenstock), and a whistle solo in tow, our frontman ponders loudly, “Who cares about life if its big and lonely?” Appropriately, this is the most “lonely” sounding song on the album.
“Grudge Report” begins in a similar position, with Rosenstock only accompanied by an acoustic guitar and some slight electric guitar. He’s at his most jilted and bitter here, being pushed by the indirect rejections of some unknown assailant into proclaiming he’ll “take my chances and go it alone” and that he “hates people anyway”. The quiet complaining, however, takes a turn towards the eruptive as the song builds up towards a full-on electric climax, featuring the now screaming Rosenstock reciting the chorus over the noise. Once again, we’re reminded to never get comfortable inside the ever-shifting and volatile nature of the album. As evidenced by the rest of the songs, Rosenstock isn’t one to go whimpering into that good and lonesome night, so perhaps it should be expected that the only moody singer-songwriter sounding section on the album is met with some resistance.
Beyond his individual, personal experiences with solitude and self-destruction throughout the album, Rosenstock also considers some of the big pictures of life, namely the constants of death and capitalism on “5 Funerals” and the coyly named “Side Projects Are Never Successful”. The former is about a year where Rosenstock had the misfortune of attending, well, five funerals. Over a full blown ska punk instrumental, he laments his lack of outward sadness and takes the fatalistic position of viewing death as “a bar that that we all gotta leave some time”. Similar to a cut from the album previous, “Stand There Until You’re Sober”, Rosenstock doesn’t see the point in wasting time with mourning because, as he defiantly states in the chorus, “there’s no hope in mope”.
“Side Projects”, on the other hand, tackles the prospect of living and what that means in an ultra-consumerized society. The whole track is a stream of consciousness diatribe that was spawned by Rosenstock receiving what he refers to as a “post-panic attack speeding ticket” that allows for some self-reflection on the way to court to fight the fine. His mind jumps from place to place, beginning with the establishing shot of “It was a hot June day and my ass was sticking to the seat of my girlfriend’s car”. From there he considers the inevitable sun explosion apocalypse and the irony of a billboard being the only protection allowing them to see, which leads to the pessimistic realization that we’ll never be able to escape corporate influence and “it’s sure as shit not getting better, so we might as well accept it now”.
All of this is, of course, recited over a peppy pop rock instrumental chock full of major chords. I mean, what else is Bomb The Music Industry! about if not singing and dancing while the world rots around you? This whole album, and especially this song, is Rosenstock at his most cynical but also at his most playful and maniacal, like his whole mantra could be boiled down to a line from “Side Projects” referencing the end of the world: “Fuck it, I’m gonna hang out on the rooftop when it comes.”
Even with all the angst, a blade of optimism still somehow slices through the wry self pity, albeit not coming until the very end of the record. “King of Minneapolis Pts. III & IV” closes out the album on an unexpected but soaring high note, opting instead to focus on small victories rather than the overwhelming failures. After a full speed pop punk intro (cheesy synth line included), the narrative finds our hero waking up on the floor of a “famous Minneapolis rapper (whose name will go unmentioned),” and, miraculously, he feels just fine. For once, Rosenstock wakes up with no dread, no crushing depression, and most importantly, no hangover. This moment of relief leads him to make the brilliant face turn that punctuates the chorus: “Fuck it/I got through today/I got a few more tomorrows”. Goodbye Cool World isn’t the only Bomb The Music Industry! album to end with an injection of positivity (Scrambles, To Leave or Die in Long Island, and arguably Vacation conclude with similar sentiments), but “King of Minneapolis Pts. III & IV” coming after what is probably the most bitter and miserable album of Rosenstock’s career just makes it that much more effective. Despite an outward attitude that can be mopey or pessimistic, Rosenstock is always persisting on a dream that rides like a constantly backfiring van, and like he says to cap off “King of Minneapolis Pts. III & IV”’s brilliant finale: “I still have a home, even if my home’s a van.”
Goodbye Cool World is a weird, ugly, poorly produced, sloppy, exhilarating, catchy, bombastic, and fun album, among many other things. Here are some things this album isn’t: unoriginal, fake, lethargic, uninspired, or disingenuous. Across this relatively short album is Rosenstock laid bare in exactly the way he wants you to see it. Every quirk, every break in the voice, every messy riff, it’s all a part of Rosenstock’s frantic and passionate being embedded into the files. Just like his entire career, he lets nothing stop him from chasing after whatever wild idea ignites his passion, whether that be making music with just a laptop as a backing band or giving all of that music away at no cost. Jeff Rosenstock has come a long way since those days, he’s now providing excellent records to Polyvinyl Records under his own name, but all it takes is listening to an album like Goodbye Cool World to hear the creative spirit that has carried him in these past couple decades. That’s the beauty of a Rosenstock record: each one carries a bloody piece of him, never to be taken away.