Album Review: Grown-Ups by Pencildive

ALBANY — With their sophomore release, Grown-Ups, Pencildive, and especially frontwoman Gina De Nardo, have shown tremendous growth.

The record opens with “Is Anyone Real.” Featuring a rollicking bass intro lifted by various guitars and drums, and complemented with the sardonic, cutting lyrics for which she is known, I knew fairly quickly this was going to be a great record. Painfully, and vulnerably honest, De Nardo weaves a common, and relatable theme throughout the record: anxiety.

“Kids” (track two) deals with the concept of kids being much more authentic than the adult versions of themselves. De Nardo gives off a certain lamentation that life would be much easier if only this authenticity persisted, and this listener tends to agree. Track three, “The Sweats,” contains tons of oversaturated chorus-effected and distorted guitars, along with bass and drums, performed by Kevin Cardinale and Zach Hirsch, respectively. The drum fills throughout each chorus as the rest of the instruments drop out make this song very enjoyable. Then, the following track, “Freaking Me Out,” starts off very minimalistic and slow. The ability to switch dynamics and energy levels on a dime is one of my personal favorite aspects about Pencildive and they display that skill set even better on this album.

Pencildive paid more attention to song arrangement on Grown-Ups, and that fact is particularly seen on “My Arms” (track five). Starting off with a slow, sludging instrumental intro, the song changes to a lone guitar, then the previous instrumentation is reincorporated. Bass and drums frequently drop out and return, and then the song shifts to a significant instrumental lift, followed by a distorted bass guitar ending. Afterward, a weather update is heard playing in the background, as it eventually distorts and cuts out. Up next was my favorite track on the record, “Skin.” The overdriven and engaging chromatic chord progression instantly grabbed and hooked my ear. While this record centers primarily on various feelings of anxiety, De Nardo is able to make this heavy topic extremely palatable through the occasional use of nihilistic humor. An example of this is how she daydreams about being run over, noting that the last thought of her life would probably be some obscure thought about “Kill Bill 3.” The album is once again brought down in energy by the following track.

“Bookends” (track seven) is a sort of lamenting – with a dash of hope and longing – waltz. In typical Pencildive fashion, however, the lamenting energy is definitely brought back to the forefront by the end of the tune. The song’s narrative mainly deals with not wanting to say goodbye to memories, and people. As humans, we often evaluate time as linear rather than dealing with and appreciating things in the moment, and I feel this song does well to address that aspect of humanity. “Grown-Ups” (track nine), the title track of the record, is a very fast-paced waltz. In many ways, it serves a similar function that “Laundromat Lady” from their debut, When I Go Outside, did. Similarities are easily drawn to that song: both of them are initially a fast waltz and both of them turn to slower 4/4 instrumental jams. 

Lastly, the closing track, “Dead and Swollen,” serves to bring about an air of acceptance and a look forward from De Nardo. While she still is discussing topics rooted in anxiety, there is a certain way about it that makes it seem like she’s acknowledging that ultimately the answer exists within her own self. She has to put the work in to make a better life for her, be it physically or mentally, and it definitely seems that the sense of anxiety has a hint of “it’ll be ok.”

Grown-Ups is a fantastic album, and one that I feel is made with such audible growth over their first record. The one thing I would note is that, at times, the band’s energy levels do seem a bit formulaic, as well as their oscillatory use of ¾ and 4/4 time signatures. But, if something works: stick with it! Catch them live when you can, I can only imagine how fun these new songs would be to see and hear them performed live.

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