It's not easy growing up. All the awkwardness, confusion, and emotional upheaval experienced on a daily basis can be pretty hard to handle. Now imagine doing it on-stage and on record. The members of the Goon Sax were only 17 when their first album, Up to Anything, was released -- it positively ached with growing pains and almost every song was cringingly real as if it was cribbed from a diary and set to sparsely hooky guitar pop. After time spent touring the world, gaining experience, and graduating high school, the band set out to make a more mature second record. For 2018's We're Not Talking, they hired Cameron Bird and James Cecil of Architecture in Helsinki to produce, brought in some string players, and paid far more attention to the arrangements of the songs. They wanted the record to hew closely to their idea of what a pop record should sound like and despite some clashes with Bird and Cecil, who have different ideas about the concept of pop, this is a wonderfully poppy record in the best sense of the word. The songs are bright and bold, the strings swoop in occasionally to lift the songs into the skies, and there's a refreshing lightness to everything that makes the still-somewhat-difficult nature of the subject matter go down more easily. They managed to build up and expand up their sound without losing the core of what made them special. Another change was adding drummer Riley Jones to the songwriting roster to join Louis Forster and James Harrison. She also steps up to the mike to sing lead vocals on "Strange Light," one of the album's quieter moments. Both Forster and Harrison sound more confident as vocalists, especially Harrison. He sometimes sounded like he was hiding behind artifice on their debut, which made his songs less effective. The improvement in his vocals give his songs a boost, and they've gone from being skippable to some of the highlights. The rumbling folk-pop of "Love Lost" is a brilliant sketch of loneliness and confusion, "A Few Too Many" is a wonderfully breezy tune, and his duet with Jones on "Til the End" is a perfect balance of his tartness and her sweetness. Once again, Forster's songs are the biggest and most immediate. "Make Time 4 Love" is the kind of expansive indie pop Belle and Sebastian forgot how to make years ago, "Sleep EZ" channels the early Go-Betweens and adds a giant hook, and "Get Out" is a wound-up rocker that shows the band has a tougher side. Throughout the record, the production team of Bird and Cecil give the songs some depth and greater scope, adding nice touches like cowbell and keyboards that make the songs leap out of the speakers. It's a great combination of sound and songs that makes good on the promise the band showed on their debut, and shows them navigating the numerous pitfalls of growing up as a band in fine fashion.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra