Track taken from the album “Adulthood”, out October 11th.
Sean Cronin is hardly the first to find himself asking these questions in that oh-so treacherous period between adolescence and becoming an adult in more than just age alone. With Adulthood, the third album from his project Very Good, Cronin traces that progression from a startlingly fresh perspective.
A multi-instrumentalist and formally-trained double bassist who is both a composer in the traditional sense and a songwriter in the popular sense, Cronin has worked primarily in the realm of jazz (bebop, swing, New Orleans, modern, etc.) over the last 20 years. But that only tells part of a story that spills forth from Adulthood in rich, naked — and often bitingly funny — detail. In many ways, it’s a universal story: You freak out, you drift, you lose your way and you chafe against the pressures imposed upon you by the outside world.
Then, as Cronin discovered, the real challenge begins once you come to realize that the biggest obstacles are actually internal. The age itself may vary, but sooner or later the truth hits. “I got to, like, 28-29,” Cronin says, “and it was like ‘Oh. I actually know what I’m capable of, but now it’s just a matter of what I do with those abilities.’ By that point, you know what they are. So then it’s about putting them forward in the world.”
Therein lies the conflict at the heart of Adulthood.
Now several years (though not quite comfortably) removed from the conflict, Cronin has essentially lived several musical lifetimes in one. From classical piano training as a young child to his first real gig at age 12 playing country music in bars with his father, it was on to punk bands, then the orchestra pit for musicals followed by touring with bluegrass acts, theatrical scoring work, indie rock, collaborations in modern dance, etc.
Musically speaking, Adulthood comprises all of those things. We can readily identify the influences Cronin drew from to create the pastoral folk balladry of “Tree Dreams,” the magnificent, opera-esque buildup of indie epic “Without You Around,” the funked-up Band-style Americana of the title track, the choral transcendence of “Light’s Refrain,” etc, etc. with a little bit of influence from both absurdist and classical literature thrown-in for good measure.
But Cronin has become such a master weaver you almost don’t notice all the threads of other styles that each song contains.
Where theatricality and absurdity have long been hallmarks of the Very Good stage show, Adulthood as an album coheres into an almost shockingly unified complete listen. No mere genre hybrid, the album captures Cronin’s step away from all the previous styles and mediums he’s pursued in the past. It had to be that way…
Cronin’s urge to write his own music — music that didn’t adhere to any one musical idiom — was building towards an inevitable crisis. And so when he sings “Maybe I’ll watch my song float away” and “I’ll watch a ship setting sail” on Adulthood’s mournful opening track, “Into the Sun,” there’s a hell of a lot more at stake than the spare beauty of Cronin’s fingerpicking on an old plywood archtop guitar lets on at first.
In fact, Cronin sings as if addressing a future potential gone before it could ever be realized. That, of course, isn’t the outcome of the story the album ends up telling, but the charge of doubt still resonates, every bit as believable today as when Cronin first fell into three distinct modes of writing — surrealist, absurdist, and dreamy (sometimes using up to three typewriters at once in fits of Dadaist/cut-up word experimentation before floating halfway back down to earth to roll around in the mundane).
He hadn’t noticed at first, but taken together the songs eventually took shape as a journey chronicling the struggle of navigating life’s different stages. Later, a fisherman friend brought up Dante’s Divine Comedy and a light bulb went off: Cronin realized he could reference the heaven-hell-purgatory structure of the classical epic poem as a kind of metaphorical scaffolding.
“The songs that resulted from these writings tell an abstract tale of walking the line between imposed reality and freedom,” he explains — a line we all must learn how to walk.
Of course, part of what makes this album so appealing is how accurately Cronin strikes a universal chord. That said, among the many reasons why Adulthood stands out so much is that Cronin’s muse doesn’t lead him to surrender to responsibility or keep striving to resist it. For him, “growing up” means to accept a kind of constant teetering to one side or the other.
“Welcome to adulthood / you picked a special time to be alive,” Cronin sings on the title track. In the song, it sounds like he’s sneering — and you can almost hear life sneering back.
Maybe so, but Adulthood is a most resolute statement about finding a way to stay steady, even when you’re unsettled…
The prevailing myth of rock and roll is that it offers us freedom, a myth so pervasive it’s trained us to look at artists as “free,” as people who have somehow managed to escape the gravity that binds us all. Adulthood sends a starkly different message, shattering that myth and reminding us that, ultimately, there is no freedom from oneself.