Jeff Rosenstock, bandleader and songwriter for Bomb The Music Industry!, is about as DIY as you can get: he helps run his own label (Quote/Unquote, which releases everything on it for free), he ensures that there are all-ages shows at every one of his band’s tour stops and he plays a style of music that’s too ska for indie rock fans, too indie for ska fans and too Long Island for just about everybody not from Long Island. But it’s his unique, fervent dedication to his own morals and tastes that have made his latest project, Bomb The Music Industry!, such a cult success.
Following the release of the unemployment-obsessed Scrambles and an intermittent EP entitled Adults!!! Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited By Nothing!!!!!! (the band really likes exclamation marks), BTMI has released Vacation, an album preoccupied with the same themes of alienation, daily minutia and anxiety that populate the previous records. Rosenstock writes what he knows, and he does this well. Like Los Campesinos’s Gareth Campesinos, he isn’t afraid to discuss the awkward and get a little overdramatic. But Rosenstock tempers his melodrama with a healthy dose of self-deprecation and groundedness: while he may write a song about his need for someone to save his life (“Savers”), he immediately follows it up with a song entitled “I Can’t Complain.”
But you don’t really care about all the thematic things. Are the tunes any good? Oh, shit yeah. Opening track “Campaign for a Better Next Weekend” rides a lilting piano line to a rip-roaring punk climax, all while Rosenstock tells a story about asshole UPS men who don’t even leave a slip and getting hit by a car on his bike. “New Vocal Coach” and “Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?” evoke Elvis Costello comparisons for their punky takes on classic, 50’s-style chord progressions and Rosenstock’s clever use of some old school pop tropes. “Hurricane Waves” and the aformentioned “I Can’t Complain” reaffirm BTMI’s ability to write concise, catchy pop-punk anthems and thrashier tracks like “Everybody That You Love” and “Sick, Later” hearken back to Rosenstock’s angrier days back in Long Island ska collective Arrogant Sons of Bitches.
Gone are the more eccentric, 8-bit experimentations. While some chunky synths are still widely used, the sonic pallette is, overall, more refined and professional, as evidenced by transitory tracks such as the chorus-laden “Sponge Board/Baby Waves” and penultimate track “Sunny Place/Shady People.” There’s glockenspiel, organs, string sections and all sorts of magical studio flourishes. Still, Rosenstock and company are able to rabble-rouse like few others. This refined aggression sets them miles apart from their ska contemporaries, who can often seem cartoonish when they get too ambitious.
Vacation is a record for a certain type of person. Some call it the “smart ska fan.” Rosenstock calls it the “dumb indie rock fan.” I think the picture to the left says it all: if you’re unashamed of indulging in the trashier things in life, like Natty Ice, Icing your bros and, well, ska-punk, you’ll be rewarded generously by a record that is as articulate as it is thrill-seeking. So download it. It’s free (and legal!), so you’ve got nothing to lose. Or, more accurately, everything to gain.