It’s been just more than a year since Northwest Indiana/Chicago, Ill.-based Grown Ups released its debut full-length, More Songs. The LP proved the band’s debut EP Songs was no fluke, and that Grown Ups’ pop-punk leanings allowed it to stand out from the rest of the current neo-emo bands. Its latest release, and first for Doghouse Records, is Hand Holder—a four-song EP that sees Grown Ups blur the line between uptempo punk and noodle-y emo.
Hand Holder opens with “Wig Wham,” a song that wouldn’t have felt out of place on More Songs. The track is anything but formulaic, transitioning quickly between staccato verses and sing-along choruses seamlessly. When it slows down midway through, it displays why the band has found a home alongside other emo-revivalists.
Although Grown Ups underwent a lineup change prior to Hand Holder’s recording—bassist Andy Tokarski has been replaced by Kyle Wolak—the group has reached new peaks in songwriting. The bass lines are more pronounced than on earlier work, and the already impressive drumming courtesy Jacob Bonham is more dynamic when implementing different styles.
What hasn’t changed is the intricate interplay between guitarists Adam Sheets and Doyle Martin. Grown Ups’ guitar work is not only technically proficient, but it also shifts dramatically in each song. In doing so, guitar leads become as infectious as the song’s chorus, something seen on the highly accessible “Couch-King.”
It would be easy to write Hand Holder off as more of the same from Grown Ups, but the improved sound quality of the recording brings out subtleties that show the band is heading down new avenues.
Immediately noticeable is the fact that Martin’s vocals are significantly smoother than on Grown Ups’ previous releases. This change is off-putting at first, as it makes the songs appear far too polished. On “Well Water,” Hand Holder’s final track, Martin trades in his vulnerable yelp to approach the song in subdued manner. In doing so, it allows for Wolak’s harmonies to complement Martin and inject a rawer energy into the song. Wolak also makes an impact on “Wildlife,” where the group’s dual vocals see his snottier style cut through and inject a refreshing new take on the group’s sound.
In addition to Martin’s shift in vocal style, Hand Holder sees a change in lyrical content. Each of the four tracks are still introspective and personal, but they seem to focus on Martin’s fear of stagnation. “Couch-King” basks in the negativity—“I was king of the couch/I reigned for 28 days/Building mountains of clothes/Making pillars of plates”—while “Wigwam” questions why one would stay still in the first place, “What good is life if it won’t change/ So why wait?”
If Hand Holder has an overall theme, it’s progression. Grown Ups consciously works to be catchier, faster, more technical and more mature than ever. It’s easy to say the band’s “growing up,” but that’s too easy. The band’s not content being a one-trick pony, and Hand Holder sees the band approach the future by putting its best foot forward.
Grown Ups – Hand Holder Tracklist:
- “Wig Wham”
- “Well Water”