The term “adulting” has recently become disturbingly prevalent in both commercial and conversational spaces. Millennials and Gen Zers refer to it jokingly as an onerous, near-impossible endeavor, while brands use it to shill products they’ve declared essential for the completion of grown-up tasks. Beneath this language—which can be condescending or self-effacing, depending on who employs it—there’s a truth that’s hard to face head-on. Traditional indicators of maturity—like long-term partnerships or homes owned outright, spacious enough to accommodate a family—are increasingly inaccessible to younger generations. Perhaps that’s part of why so many indie groups have adopted monikers that include “Mom” and “Dad.” In these harsh late-capitalist conditions, names like Soccer Mommy, Dad Thighs, and Cyberbully Mom Club conjure a morose edginess, referencing roles that many of their fans find unattainable and absurd.
From this forbidding milieu blooms Stevie Knipe, the singer-songwriter behind Adult Mom. The blunt irony of their band name belies the straightforward, sincere storytelling that has distinguished their work since their early days as a solo project, conceived in a SUNY Purchase dorm room. Since their first full-length album, the spare and guitar-driven A Momentary Lapse of Happily, their sound has deepened and developed, benefiting from expanded instrumentation. On Driver, the band’s latest full-length release, their musical growth is evident—but so is a different kind of maturity, distilled from breakups, car accidents, and unpaid bills. Their voice warm and clear as ever, Knipe sings about navigating adversity as an independent person—about what “growing up” could look like in a world that’s trying its best to push them back into the ground.
Admittedly, it’s not always pretty. At the outset of “Breathing,” Knipe calmly recounts bingeing TV to distract from the stress of an exorbitant hospital bill. As the song unfolds, propelled by rhythmic, gently rattling acoustic guitars, they seem to accede to crushing pressure on both a material and emotional level: pushing the bill under a stack of mail, accepting that a relationship has ended, realizing they’re “nothing special.” But there’s a glow to the track nonetheless, a melancholy warmth that recalls the Cranberries classic “Linger.” It’s largely attributable to Knipe’s vocals, which relay losses and joys with the same steady, tender lilt. But perhaps there’s also a balm to be found in the song’s frankness, its stark account of just how bad things have gotten. It’s hard to heal if you don’t take an accurate inventory of your wounds.
Wounds abound on this album, but so do efforts to patch them. “Dancing” describes a deliberate attempt to regain motion and joy amid memories of disaster and hurt. What’s playing in the background? “The song I crashed my car to,” Knipe sings, matter-of-factly. Then there’s “Adam,” a shorter jam with a fuzzed-out guitar riff that would be a joy to hear in a small, sweaty venue. At its core, it’s a celebration of hard-won at-homeness in one’s sexuality after years of uncertainty and hesitation. In contrast to “Breathing,” which dwells on death and injury, Knipe recalls dancing to “I Will Survive,” rejoicing in the fact that they can now ask to kiss a girl “without feeling like shit.” It’s a heartening look at the flip side of adulthood’s mounting constraints—amid accumulating debt and heartbreak, there’s freedom to be found in laying claim to oneself.
Driver isn’t flawless. Knipe’s forthright, unselfconscious songwriting can sometimes meander, veering into metaphors that don’t always land. But the project’s imperfections mirror its underlying message: that hesitation and failure are fertile grounds for growth. If younger generations struggle to meet outdated standards of maturity—good credit, heterosexual monogamy, tight-lipped stoicism—it’s up to us to determine our own. Adult Mom does exactly that on this imperfect, warm, and ultimately successful third album, displaying progress down a path to maturity that’s entirely theirs.
This sense of evolution—messy, continuous, and highly personal—crystallizes beautifully at the close of “Frost,” the final track. As the guitars fade out, a small child babbles in the background, their words largely indistinguishable except for the phrase: “I helped you!” To which Knipe replies, patiently: “You did help me.” Here, and throughout the album, their compassion toward a past self is palpable—their attempts at healing, both botched and successful, viewed with gratitude. Knipe’s generation has been infantilized to the point where adulthood has been branded as an unattainable ideal, but somehow, they have found a way to make peace with their helplessness, to claim it for themselves. One can crash a car, harbor regret and hide beneath the covers—yet still be grown, and growing still.
Clare Flanagan is a San Francisco-based writer specializing in music criticism and poetry. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, running, and listening to music of all genres at an unwise volume.