I’ve always felt like ADULT. embodies a certain archetype of electronic music. Having existed for over 15 years, they took the perceived coldness of purely synthetic music that usually came along with the connotation of nihilism and apathy; a paradoxically danceable paradigm devoid of feeling and depth, like so many dead pan German vocalists or divas making up stuff over 4/4 beats. Somehow, with the help of their inimitable cover art photography depicting limp, lifeless construction workers, or a woman sticking her head into a briefcase, they are able to take musical post-modernism and craft it into a jagged sculpture of humorless and surrealistic dying mannequins set to an artfully stoic concrete backdrop.
Just to give you an idea, some of ADULT.’s titles have had names like “Why Bother?”, “Detachable Legs”, “Dispassionate Furniture”, “Glue your Eyelids Together”, “I Feel Worse when I’m with you”, “Anxiety Always”, “Let’s Feel Bad Together” and so forth. Their lyrics make paranoia and co-dependency sound fun. One of my favorite lines of theirs is “Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a party and be the only one there?” They started out with a kind of techno that didn’t have too much bass, not too much “aggro” qualities to it, no overexertion; certainly not underproduced or lazy by any stretch, but absolutely unpretentious and stripped down, but still was perfect, timeless, soundtrack music for being on a road trip or any other high energy walk/errand/chore. It is a kind of music that gives equal attention to old technology as well as new developments, and is best known to me probably for their somewhat elaborate interweaving arpeggios and tinny snare drums. People are calling them “electropunk pioneers”, and while I wouldn’t argue with it, they aren’t words I would use myself. “Coldwave” or “Darkwave” wouldn’t quite do either.
ADULT. did come to prominence around the same time that there was an “electroclash” movement happening, and everybody was freaking out about Chicks on Speed and Fischer Spooner. I’ve read in their interviews that they were just absolutely hounded by the press, to the point where they needed to lay low somewhere along the line. They’d gone from modestly releasing 12 inches on their own label, Ersatz Audio, to being on relatively huge labels like Thrill Jockey. Their music has grown to have more atmospheric elements, more instrumentals, to incorporate live bass and guitar, and the female vocals by Nicola Kuperus have gone from being nonchalant to, well, hyperchalant. In the last five years or so, they produced 3 films; all of which they seemed to provide live soundtracks to, and have also done a number of DJ stints, one of which remains among my favorite DJ sets by anyone, ever.
This year’s new album, The Way Things Fall, crystallized ADULT. as more than simply a “band”. Their photography is in art galleries, they sell greeting cards with portrayals of faceless women by classic cars, but there’s still something ominous about them. They have a very creative approach to promotion; namely, their artful “PSAs”. They are pioneers of something, but I’m not sure what. They’re still completely inimitable in their style, but they’re not hiding anything. I say this is art because it can take you to a place that nothing else can.
I saw ADULT. twice in my life; once around 2001 or 2003 opening for Trans Am, and then again in 2013, last weekend. The first time I saw them, Kuperus was still and unemotional. The stage was huge but she stood near the other member, Adam Lee Miller, and his gear the whole time. I was unsure if this was a confident aplomb or an overwhelming nervousness that prompted such a stage presence. Fast forward to ten years later, and the singer is dancing (she’s a great dancer!) while also seeming to be on the brink of tears for the first half of the set. Very moving, very confusing. Occasionally, she would ask the crowd “Are you sure you’re having fun yet?”.
The new album seems like a break up album, glaringly so, but elsewhere they say that it’s more about universal concepts. I was around at the end of the show, and someone mentioned that the new album seems to be about a failed marriage. Nicola said that it’s simply about existentialist themes, or something to that effect. She was very friendly, very personable, she danced with the crowd during one of the songs titled “IDLE”, but was she steadfast about her lyrics being impersonal? Or was she just not wanting to talk about it with strangers? Is that the art of the deal? What would that mean? Did they write this during a divorce? What was that like? Or did they simply confront the possibility on a record, as artists? It’s bravery no matter how you spin it.
Either way, the lyrical content is fully researched at least. I don’t like The Mountain Goats per se, but they wrote songs about going through a divorce in a time and place they have never lived in, and apparently it was very convincing. The lyrics on the new album touch on the diametric opposition of dramatic endings and reflection or that of staying stagnant, a feeling that “sticks to your bones”. Or there are the opening lyrics to “Nothing Lasts”: “I Can See In Your Mouth / Down Your Throat / Straight to Your Heart / Tears Me Apart / Because I know / Nothing Lasts / It Disappears / You Disappeared In The Mirror”.
“The Way Things Fall” is phenomenal in the sense that it combines their previous experience with soundtrack music, “electropunk” or otherwise more danceable music, and fuses it into a noticeably dark and gothic affair, yet not so much a departure for the band; more a level of maturity and a distinctive amalgamation of previous outings. The music has more of a dynamic range throughout, and it is certainly more melodic. The lyrics are sung with more of a sense of evocation that is resigned and balanced when compared to the previous outings of either monotone speech or screaming. With all of the “post-apocalyptic” horseshit that people are unceremoniously glomming onto, a very natural and organic record like this is incredibly refreshing, and absolutely essential. These people are from Detroit.
A2) Idle (Second Thoughts)
A3) Tonight we Fall
A4) New Frustration
A5) Love Lies
B1) At the End of it All
B2) Nothing Lasts
B3) A Day like Forever
B4) We will Rest
B5) Rise & Fall