Just as they were on their debut LP two years ago, Adult Mom are distinctly honest and bittersweet on their 2017 follow-up, Soft Spots. Hailing from Purchase, New York, the DIY-inspired quartet continue to build upon themes so elegantly brought to life on their previous album, Momentary Lapse of Happily. Once again nostalgia, anxiety and identity act as the bedrock of the album, as the band’s figurehead, Steph Knipe, struggles to reconcile these issues over Soft Spots’ nine-song stay. But while it might sound as though not much has changed since the band’s similarly reflective and downbeat first LP, Soft Spots spends as much time being cautiously optimistic about the future as it does being remorseful about past failures. Breezing through the album’s nine songs in two-to-three-minute bursts, Adult Mom still manage to make a huge impact on their latest release despite its short length.

While opening strong with the subdued ‘Ephemeralness’, it is the intro of the second track and lead single ‘Fullscreen’ that reminds me why I’d fallen in love with the band in the first place. In classic Adult Mom fashion, Knipe layers provocative musings over catchy, romantic pop hooks that mask just how tragic the lyrics themselves actually are. Set against an infectiously upbeat guitar riff Knipe tears through the single’s opening two lines of “Do you fullscreen your porn?/ Do you think about me as you watch her crawl across the floor?” exploding from there into reflections on modern relationships and personal insecurities that are often as funny as they are disheartening. ‘Fullscreen’ sets the stage for the entire album to come, and while there’s nothing that jumps out quite as much as this single, following tracks like ‘J Station’ and ‘Steal the Lake from the Water’ do a great job of living up to the promise of Soft Spots’ first real triumphant track.

The single’s juxtaposition of personal and intimate themes set against an upbeat melody has been a songwriting staple of Knipe’s for years now, but their lyrics are given an even greater sense of personality on this new album. Like always, the raw intimacy of Knipe’s vocals award every track with an emotional intensity as the band’s lead lays their soul bare over a series of compellingly personal vignettes. However Knipe’s already taut storytelling ability is taken to even greater heights on this follow-up thanks to a larger focus on the vocal delivery of each track. At times there’s more aggression in the singer’s voice than ever before, making Soft Spots feel like a confident statement of forward progression and evolution as much as it is a vulnerable look at past defeats. It might seem a bit weird to focus so much on the way these songs are delivered, but since their early EP releases Adult Mom has always succeeded in striking up a great connection to the listener through Knipe’s emotive vocals, a connection that’s taken to another level on Soft Spots.

The songs retain the same honest simplicity and raw authenticity that was present in band’s previous releases, but Soft Spots does benefit from a decidedly fuller sound. It’s not that they’ve swapped out slow guitar picking and steady beats for rocking solos or anything, but there’s a greater variety and a more accomplished sense of cohesion here that wasn’t entirely present on Happily. Knipe’s melancholic lyrics and touching vocals have always propelled Adult Mom forward across previous releases, but Soft Spots is a confident full-band effort from musicians clearly more comfortable with taking chances and experimenting with new sounds.

Which is why it’s a touch disappointing that some of the tracks on the band’s sophomore LP sound like leftover bits and pieces from earlier album sessions. That in itself isn’t a terrible thing of course, as the tracks here are just as good as – if not better than – the cuts on Happily, but the high points of Soft Spots come from songs that push Adult Mom’s sound into new areas. Lulls into safety of familiarity would have been more welcome if the follow-up was a little lengthier, but at only nine songs and 25 minutes long at times this second album can feel like a bridge between Adult Mom’s scrappy first efforts and something even greater yet to come.

But I suppose if the only real problem you have with an album is that you wished you could have spent more time with it, then it must be doing something right, and with Soft Spots Adult Mom have brilliantly built upon the promise of their first release. Like its predecessor, the band’s sophomore effort revels in introspective melancholy, but manages to retain the same innate inner-strength that made Adult Mom such a resonating and powerful force on their debut album. Although the band’s openness when it comes to personal issues of gender and mental health isn’t as singular in the alternative space as it felt in 2015, they remain one of the key artists out there battling through the chaos of these subjects to the tune of catchy and melodic pop hits. Soft Spots feels like an overdue catch up with an old friend, and it’s that same comforting sense of intimacy that continues to make Adult Mom such an exciting group to follow.