In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: songs that tell a story.
It’s hard to discuss Bomb The Music Industry! without having a lengthy preamble about the band’s ethics. It’s well worn ground—especially with the in-depth documentary Never Get Tired coming soon—but it’s imperative to know just how much the band’s collective beliefs influenced its music, and vice versa. It’s something that could be pedantic but becomes important when Bomb The Music Industry! was so routinely labeled “Fugazi for the internet age.”
For those uninitiated: Bomb The Music Industry! was aggressively anti-consumerism. Bandleader Jeff Rosenstock founded Quote Unquote Records as the first donation-based record label, years ahead of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails releasing albums in a similar manner, and all those albums are still free long after they received physical releases. For the first half of its existence Bomb didn’t make T-shirts, though fans could bring one to a show and a band member would spray paint it (this practice continued even after it made actual shirts). Like Fugazi, the band had a strict policy of only playing all-ages shows that cost $10 or less, and on certain tours—like the aptly titled Bring Your Own Band tour—fans were encouraged to bring instruments, hop on stage, and play whatever songs they had learned. All of this was not only reflected in the band’s music, but amplified by its stories about the difficulties of existing in the modern world. It’s why, when Rosenstock put Bomb to bed in early 2014 that fans lamented not just the loss of a band, but the end of one of the most important DIY movements of the new millennium.
Rosenstock was in his 30s when Bomb ended, and in a way that felt symbolic. He was crossing a milestone age, the kind that often sees people give up their youthful idealism for jaded cynicism. But that’s not what brought about Bomb’s demise. On its last album, Vacation, Rosenstock was already working to strike a balance between his idealistic 20s and looming 30s, making for an album about getting older, things getting a little darker, and that pain in your knees being a little bit more persistent. But it also gives a big “Fuck you” to relinquishing the things you hold dear just because of all that.
Opening with “Campaign For A Better Next Weekend” Vacation shows Bomb at its most refined, building a lengthy piano ballad that sees Rosenstock run down the details of a rather joyous day off. The cold snap holding New York City has broken, allowing him to leave his apartment in shorts for the first time in months. He picks up his bike from the shop, heads to the post office to snag a package, and things are hunky dory. Then it all takes a turn. A Ford Explorer runs a light, and although Rosenstock avoids a collision, he goes sliding across the pavement, acquiring some nasty gashes in the process. He rushes home to tend to his wounds, and just as he gets there the song explodes into a flurry of blast beats and power chords. His takeaway: “I guess I shouldn’t have worn shorts.”
This moment establishes a theme that will be returned to throughout Vacation, as simple pleasures are routinely wrecked by circumstances outside Rosenstock’s control. When the song enters its uproarious finale he sums it all up with, “It felt just like vacation / But still we complained / Until we all felt jaded / And started to hate it.” In many ways its his way of eulogizing his day off gone awry, but also bidding farewell to the early days of Bomb. He may have spent his 20s toiling for no money, but it was better than sitting at home doing nothing. It’s a reminder that getting older doesn’t beget cynicism, which sounds like a solid realization to make on a day off.