The band Adulting, a four-piece unit from Portland, picked a fine band name, not because of the cleverness of that word (which went bankrupt a couple years ago after innumerable wailings from the Boomer generation), but because it betrays nothing about the sound of their band. Are they a too-earnestly folk act? A brutal spazzcore band? A Top 40 DJ?
The answer is none of these. An indie/emo/punk hybrid formed in 2014, Adulting play vaguely anthemic, vaguely dispirited emo-anthems with a surprising amount of character, energy, and catharsis. I don't know how socially adapted they are, but these four greater Portland twentysomethings’ new 10-song full-length Things Could Still Get Worse is pretty well adjusted.
One of the things that makes Things Could Still Get Worse a good record, potentially an excellent one, is its ability to avoid the missteps most common to the genre — no cringeworthy lyrical blunders, no overt fealty to one particular band or scene, no sign of too-slick production, no tryhard vibes (looking at you, Beach Slang). All of these are common errors, and have a way of making an album sound silly, outdated, or hard to stomach.
Without these distractions, Adulting have made what fans of this genre might think is a modern classic. Singer/guitarist Stanley Beck's raspy, erratic, barely in-the-red vocals are a perfect fit for the band's surges and release, and his lyrics are nicely done. "Could have sworn that I was overdue to feel like all of my insides came unglued all at once just because like they always used to," he snarls at the beginning of "An (Even More) Optimistic Song," a clear standout (and likely live-show favorite). "And no words in the English idiom / Will do justice for what kids my age have done / To the overall well-being of common conversation / Glued to cellular screens / Or some stupid shit no normal person ever really needs / Humanity is the reason I smoke weed." It's honestly one of the sharpest punk anthems I've ever heard on the subject of getting high, and a perfect example of how the band’s m.o. — not so much angry as sick of everything. Relatable!
Beck's sometimes-goofy, sometimes-ferocious, entirely charismatic work as the band's mouthpiece has a rare and terrific gift in the form of Todd Casper, whose guitar work all over the record is a vital engine to the band’s ability to make this shit work. Casper's playing is fluid and adventurous, dancing around the rhythms and avoiding easy payoffs (he reminds me sometimes of the great Victor Villareal in Cap'n Jazz and the first Owls record), and adding tons of energy to balance the rest of band's tossed-off "I quit" vibe.
Most tracks hover in the mid-tempo range, and though that can occasionally make some of the song dynamics feel predictable, Adulting are better for not leaning too heavily on speedy Lifetime-style pop-punk passages. The band does pick up the pace on "Wish You Weren't Here" and it works, but the fundamentally downward spiritual trajectory of most of these songs is weirdly compelling. The tensions it creates against the group's obvious will toward catharsis is exactly what makes this record exciting. Should they quit or keep trying? Should we? This record makes compelling cases for both.
Things Could Still Get Worse | by Adulting | record release with Wait + Crystal Canyon + Savor | Nov 21 | Wed 8 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St, Portland | $6-8 | www.portlandempire.com