Soft Spots is the sophomore album from New York’s Adult Mom. The project, originally the solo venture of Stephanie Knipe, make what label Tiny Engines describe as “clever pop songs that offer a glimpse into the journey of a gender-weird queer navigating through heartache, trauma and subsequent growth.” Now joined by Olivia Battell, Mike Dvorscak, and Bruce Hamilton, Knipe’s presence is still front and centre, the lyrics as personal as ever. But the album isn’t as harsh and dramatic as you might think, in fact quite the opposite. As the title suggests, the songs sound cushiony and soft, even the sharpest edges rounded smooth with a mixture of wistful memories, self-assured acceptance and fuzzy pop instrumentation.
The songs of Adult Mom can be split into two broad categories. There’s a sweet lo-fi pop vibe, such as on songs like ‘Full Screen’, which rollicks along in the vein of the full band Free Cake For Every Creature stuff. However, it should be said that this atmosphere is often offset by the lyrics, which confront the big issues of gender and relationships, though always in a grounded way (“And in romantic comedies” Knipe sings, “do you project my genderless body, onto the girl who loves you for what you were?”)
‘J Station’ is another gem of a pop song, it’s gently nostalgic atmosphere enshrouding lyrics about the end of a relationship, while ‘Drive Me Home’ is comparatively stormy and tumultuous, layered vocals and Stranger Things style synths adding emotional depth to reflections on identity and escaping. The phone-shot video sees Knipe wander through their childhood home, lingering shots of mundane objects suffused with memories.
“If I’m a man will you hate me?
And if I’m good will you validate me?”
Songs such as ‘Ephermeralness’ and ‘Patience’ make up the second, slower and sadder bracket, a trend taken to it’s furthest extreme on ‘Same’. Sounding like a wistful ballad, just strummed guitar and Knipe’s vocals, the track is actually packed with genuine anger, dealing with feeling shame when you really shouldn’t, and feeling guilty because of someone else’s actions. As Knipe sings:
“And oh, I will
Apologize until I am ill
And oh, I will
Take the blame
And you will stay the same”
Closer ‘The First Day of Spring’ is another of these songs, as powerfully direct and hopeful as it is heartfelt and melancholy. Not unlike the recent Real Life Buildings record, it uses the image of unseasonably cold weather as a metaphor for the lengthy process of recovery.
“It snowed a week ago
On the first day of spring
Like me it was not ready for
The warmth despite all its waiting”
Soft Spots finds Adult Mom with a new sense of self-assurance. These songs contain genuine hurt but also genuine hope, the narrator finally in possession of the bravery necessary to open up to people. It’s hard to think of a more fitting illustration of the album than the pickled pink peaches on the cover art. Yes, the fruits may get bruised if the jar is opened, but how else would anyone know how soft and sweet they are? As Tiny Engines put it, “With this record, Knipe proclaims that everybody has soft spots. Spots that get cared for and tended to, that grow and fade, that produce feeling that can linger for years and years. Knipe shares with us their process of learning how to cradle and understand their own softness without finality, a story without an end.”