Sooner or later, we all get old. Though the ravages of age are inevitable, getting older doesn't necessarily mean one has to grow up. That's a dichotomy with which the members of the Pilgrims are currently grappling. The band formed five years ago in Windsor. Under the aegis of Upper Valley sorta-label What Doth Life, the Pilgrims have released five albums, including their latest, Shred Savage. They have grown from a quartet to a quintet. And, as bassist Brendan Dangelo writes in a recent email, the band is presently "tripping over the thirties threshold and trying to be adult about it."
From someone who has face-planted on the thirties threshold and is now nervously eyeing 40 just over the horizon, here's the thing about being an adult: There are a lot of ways to go about it. Judging by Shred Savage, it seems the Pilgrims (rightly) believe one can be a grown-up and still cling to the nostalgic folly of youth. That's most overtly evidenced by the record's title — for those under 30, it's a nod to Fred Savage, the star of the classic late-1980s coming-of-age TV series "The Wonder Years." It's also teased by the cover art, which recalls Garbage Pail Kids stickers. But the theme emerges in other, more subtle ways, too.
On album opener "Weird," vocalist Chris Rosenquest recommends letting one's freak flag fly. "You can have my heart, you can shave my head / You can keep your beard, this is what she said," he sings in his typically ragged growl. Then comes the hook on repeat: "You should just be weird."
Becoming comfortable in your own skin is one of the overlooked advantages of age and experience. That notion is a central tenet of the Pilgrim's latest, both thematically and sonically. The band has always existed in a stylistic limbo in which late-1970s rock, 1980s alt-rock and 1990s punk overlap. But here they blur those lines even further. "Cool. Dad" is something like a Big Star tune if covered by Squeeze but with Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery fronting the band. Speaking of CVB, the calypso-tinged "The Man's Best Friend" could be an outtake from Telephone Free Landslide Victory.
"Smokes Too Much" takes Rivers Cuomo's middle-aged teenage angst and packages it in early 1980s power pop, à la Rick Springfield or the Cars. "Attitude City" is slackadaisical punk with a Tex-Mex kick. The album closes on "Wallet," which, amid a flurry of punchy riffs, suggests that the best way to combat financial woes is with "a big glass of wine." If that ain't grown-up, I don't know what is.
The Pilgrims play a release party for Shred Savage at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction on Friday, December 4. Shred Savage is available at pilgrimsvt.bandcamp.com.