Growth is difficult. It’s messy, confusing, and it’s never as clean as the movies make it seem. See You In Chemistry, the new album from Carly Cosgrove, understands that growing up is hectic and comes with loss, pain, and identity crises. As drummer Tyler Kramer puts it, “It’s not the obvious, cliché growth album. It’s more about how hard growth actually is.”
The band name, Carly Cosgrove, is a reference to Miranda Cosgrove’s character on iCarly. In fact, all of the song titles are in reference to eitherDrake & Josh or iCarly bits, which is actually surprisingly fitting. These songs hit hard for the exact age group who grew up on that era of Teen Nick. We are all in that transitional stage of our 20s, trying to figure out how to grow and navigate this rapidly changing world.
“Sit and Bounce” kicks off the album with quiet drumming and a sparkling guitar. Vocalist and guitarist Lucas Naylor opens with a bit of hope, crooning, “I made it work this summer/I got out of my own way.” But it doesn’t take long for that hope to give way to frustration, with him then yelling, “I’m chasing my tail around!“
And with that, the tone of the entire record is set. You can do everything right and make all the changes you’re “supposed” to make, but progress is a fickle, oxymoronic thing. The more you achieve, the more you realize that you have further to go. There’s no end to progress and growth, and that realization and frustration is present in each song.
“Munck,” which also served as the lead single, dials the frustration up even higher than “Sit and Bounce” does. Naylor shouts, “Like hell I’m done! Like hell I’m well-adjusted, like hell I’m well at all,” following a gorgeous instrumental build-up that really sells the disparity between how he’s “supposed” to feel and how he actually feels.
We treated the fishbowl like the pond/I smacked against the glass and looked beyond. In a land-locked state, I thought I saw the sea.
Other songs address the ways we mask ourselves in order to fit into the boxes we think we’re meant to fit. Performance is a big theme throughout, right from the opening track (“Did I get better? Or just better at hiding?“), and “The Great Doheny” centers this theme the most. On this track, Naylor sings about going out to parties and adopting a whole new personality to keep up appearances. The song is dripping with anxiety, as he fears that his façade will wear off (“I’m surprised I can keep this face on tight/I thought that it would peel and reveal my bite“).
Another common theme is emotional blockage. “Munck” is about becoming a “monk rock man” who forgoes anger for anxiety. “Really Big Shrimp” focuses on the fear of love and intimacy, with Naylor singing, “Make no friends and take no risks/So no one gets to fuck with this.”
This track in particular is one of the best on the album, with a horn section that soars as gang vocals echo the key sentiment: “Love? Don’t give me that/Till I can give you something back.” Ironically enough, acknowledging a lack of authenticity and intimacy is authentic and intimate, and it’s these moments that highlight the messiness of being that shine the brightest.
But despite the moments about feeling or showing too little emotions, there are other songs about swinging too far in the other direction – feeling TOO much, doing TOO much. “I only exist in extremes,” Naylor sings on “Cloudblock.” Again, it’s these messy, conflicting feelings – the oxymorons of growth – that ring the truest.
As the songs progress, the lyrics grow to be almost violent, and the three-song run of “Cloudblock,” “Headaches,” and “Chowder” are actually quite brutal. “I thought of cutting off my head/cauterize the stump on my stove,” Naylor sings on “Headaches,” a song about the urge to give up altogether instead of risk coming up short. “Chowder” echoes similar sentiments about wanting it “all or nothing.”
The album ends on a nearly eight-minute long track, “See You In Chemistry,” that fits in every one of the band’s strengths – painfully relatable lyrics, a pounding drum beat, a subtle but vibrant bassline, guitar hooks that oscillate between gritty and twinkling, and best of all, it makes you feel like you’re not alone in your growing pains. It reels in the anger and desperation on the past three songs and wraps it back around to a hopeful note: “I am gonna find my footing again.”
Overall, it’s a thoroughly impressive debut LP. The instrumentation on this album is fantastic – Carly Cosgrove have already mastered the pop-punk formula and added their own unique touches to it. The guitar work on these songs dip into math rock arrangements, and “Rue the Day” is a stand-out thanks to its delicious bassline performed by bassist Helen Barsz. The classic rousing pop-punk gang vocals pop up on various songs, and you can tell that these songs will be an absolute treat to hear performed live.
But out of everything here, it’s the lyricism that really makes this such a standout emo record. There are single lines that cut deep and perfectly capture those common yet hard to pin down feelings of confusion, anger, and disassociation. The more I listened and tuned in to the story being told, the more I realized that these songs were tapping into feelings about adulthood that I’ve never heard anyone describe so clearly. Things I’ve felt for a while, actually, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what they were.
Yet here was Carly Cosgrove, putting it all into words and making it sound damn good in the process. In fact, they make all that internal conflict seem beautiful…and maybe even a little hopeful after all.
See You Chemistry is out today, March 25th, 2022 via Wax Bodega. Purchase or stream the album here.