There’s a duality at play on Soft Spots, Steph Knipe’s newest album as Adult Mom. Just as it was on 2015’s incredibly underrated Momentary Lapse of Happily, the music is dazzlingly easy. Melodies effortlessly pour out of the simplest of riffs, which have all the weight of cotton candy. The purpose of these lovely guitar-pop instrumentals though, is merely to give as much room as possible to Knipe, whose quietly brutal lyricism can hit even the most self-assured where it hurts.
Soft Spots is more a theme than a title. Though each of Knipe’s anecdotes are vivid enough that it’s difficult to imagine them not being at least semi-autobiographical, the moments of intense vulnerability that dominate them – and that Knipe consistently shines a bright light on – are universal. We’ve all been that person on ‘Drive Me Home’, both thrilled and insecure, desperate for the subject of our desire to take the initiative and validate us, while making the ground we stand on feel at least momentarily more solid.
As romantic as it is, it’s not the most flattering of positions to be in. Knipe pleads “If I’m really fucking good, will you (please take me home),” twisting the potent cocktail of anxiety and desire (“I feel like I could blow”) they reference earlier in the song. The band’s best song to date, it can snap you immediately, painfully or pleasantly back to your most unguarded of moments, while maintaining enough of a poised, breezy shell to play unnoticed in a room occupied by your grandparents.
The memories that define ‘J Station’ are as raw as the melody is chirpy and upbeat. Knipe again asks their companion to drive them home, but with a weariness that stands in direct contrast to the eager uncertainties of ‘Drive Me Home.’ Knipe all but jumps through hoops to avoid facing the crumbling walls around them, musing that, during the drive, “I’ll pretend that the song you played wasn’t meant for me and me only.” It’s a different kind of sincerity, with Knipe admitting that eventually they’ll “regress to 12 AM calls that hurt you too,” and “be sad you were ever in my life in the first place.”
There are always relationships – romantic or platonic – that lean heavily on the sort of exchange Knipe offers on the subdued opener, ‘Ephemeralness’. “When I feel like nothing, please tell me that I am something and I’ll believe you instead,” they ask, before asserting in turn that “If you feel like nothing, I’ll tell you that you are something and you’ll believe me instead.”
The stark, gorgeous closer, ‘First Day of Spring’, finds Knipe at perhaps their most resigned. “I’ll give you all of me,” they promise, “But right now it isn’t much.” Soft Spots though, isn’t about how much Knipe gives, it’s about what Knipe is willing to give; the moments where it seems as if everything is hanging on a thin wire that’s swinging in the wind. I wonder if Knipe knows how much that – even though it supposedly “isn’t much” – means to those listening.