With his debut album, Monroe, under his belt and a swarm of critical acclaim buzzing ever so gently underneath his feet, Stephen Babcock’s approach to his sophomore release needed to be something more than just rave reviews, beautiful songwriting and captivating moments. The challenge as an artist, especially as a singer/songwriter, enduring the sophomore slump is one of complete torture. Not only do you have to grow and surpass who you became with your first album, but you now have to have a finite idea of where you’re going and evolve into something your audience never saw coming. With all this in mind, Stephen did something I’ve rarely seen an artist do. He created the ideal sophomore album with beauty and ease.
On his second album, When We Were Kids Ourselves, Babcock tells of growing pains; craving intimacy in moments of fear, searching for love where it no longer lives and learning to understand that what we knew is not what we’ll always know. The acoustic composition of guitars and drums that intertwines with the crisp and clean cut production is sprawling and gorgeous. The lyricism is enchanting as it speaks in brutal truths and harsh realities, depicting how even the smallest of emotions can be the most complex. Babcock carefully crafted and sewed together a collection of big emotions captured in little moments, and it’s intoxicatingly haunting. The lush fingerpicking and quiet stirring of “January 3rd” delivers an introspective dialogue about always having to be the change a relationship needs while in a one-sided love. The delicate, hard hitting and vibrant ballad “Heart Off” proposes the hardest question of all, how to stop loving the one who stopped loving you. There are these rare moments scattered throughout the album as if you’re standing in the same room as Babcock as he pours himself out, and as inappropriate as it might feel to be doing so, it’s that emotional scathing up close and personal that draws you closer and shows you exactly the kind of artist he is. An artist whose ideal work is to leave nothing to the imagination, even if it tears him apart.
Babcock’s When We Were Kids Ourselves simply avoids the slump altogether, allowing for no room to wonder if he made a step in the wrong direction. If this is what his growth in a year can be, it’s not hard to imagine how prolific he can become. An artist who is unabashed in his talent is an artist to watch out for. Especially one who can make people stop and stare, as they wonder what he’ll do next.