Thursday, 23 May 2013

ADULT. - The Way Things Fall


'Shout if you want to/No one really cares. Panic if you need to/You'll still be standing here.' Nicola Kuperus professes on the track Idle (Second Thoughts) - as much a profession of the wider circle as it is a regular occurrence in ADULT.'s raw and mechanical synth-pop individualism. While band-mate (and husband) Adam Lee Miller doesn't exactly architect the music as something politically triangulating, you can't help but look at the duo's six-year hiatus as one of response than simply artistic differentiation. While I'd suggest such a reason is due to mainstream America's increasing interest - or should that be abuse - of the electronic music culture, the fact both members carry well-respected art degrees under their belt may swing the reasons towards something a lot more creative and personally-motivated. Nevertheless, coming to 2013's The Way Things Fall and we assume - even without looking at the rather freeze-framed metaphoric statement - the album could hold some weight of response as it does exposition. But for a band who rely (perhaps the word heavily could be added here if desired) on the classical, robust sounds of synthesizers and drum machines, we might be given a chance to explore this sub-genre with ease; knowing full well that ADULT. aren't inclined to drench their mechanical beat matches and synthesized patterns with mounds of effect and layered folly at every opportunity.

Heartbreak definitely gets the one's and oh's pumping with its synchronous polynomial of analog beats and finger-plucking electronics in equal measure. 'It doesn't matter what you do, It doesn't matter what you say/Because of you I'm going crazy' are the first lines that pass from Kuperus' dry, extrusion of androgynous vocals. Already I'm getting throwbacks to Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife, and how the two vocalist share a common pattern of simply-dressed, full-thrust lyricism without compromise. Musically, the electronics that come up delve and dive in-between the two juxtaposed marks. At times, spiraling and spinning as if out of control. At times, breaking down and reemerging from the somewhat shallow casket of sounds, but losing none of the track's tense but still introductory remittance reflected too in Kuperus' expression. Idle (Second Thoughts) is more pulsating, but doesn't necessarily show emphasis (and maybe come across as desperate) to make the slightly more intense rhythms steal anything away from the music. The leading synths definitely conjure more of the original 80's flavour, while at the same time ushering a 90's techno vibe in the mix of high-note and low-key futuristic scurries of electronics.

But Tonight, We Fall is where ADULT. reach for the more engaging efforts - ones that strive to reach a emotional scale, despite the deliberate drawbacks and whittling down of synthetic potential. It's perhaps why there's a clear influence - and maybe homage too - of the early techno sound that gives this track its directness and its colour. Minus Kuperus' position on these tracks as neither the driving force nor the one being driven - more-so, strip the synths of their voyaged momentum - and the music loses all of its tone and its appeal. It's a simple effect, and a pattern that necessarily doesn't stand as bulked or jam-packed with flavour. But sometimes, simplicity pays off when your textures - here, electronics creating a very crisp and clean delivery throughout - help in forwarding the track on. One of the more provoking and chin-rubbing tracks on this album, New Frustration, is the exact moment on this album where the duo go from straight-talking synth-pop to discoverable trenches in the sociological and the mentally-carved. The track opens up like the prologue to a dystopian cyber-punk novel, but without all the glorious scene-setting and overly-pompous visuals that other music may aspire to carving. Instead, ADULT.'s take is a lot more stripped-back and sequential. Synths don't necessarily deviate from their target paths, and at times that does hold the track back when Kuperus' vocals come into play. But at the same time, what the duo manage to offer is a welcome opportunity to breathe and explore. Like tourists in a city, or kids running through the turnstiles of a theme park, the music feels inviting but not insistingly glossed or direct with its detail. Rather, the detail feels removed; replaced by space and openness. And given the electronic's darker, deceptive leanings, its bleaker vibes go a way to creating some tense atmospherics.

The skepticism and the paranoia that comes through on this album is one of deserved merit, and I can't help but feel that this is the prime target in ADULT.'s strive for synth-pop with a more acute, pin-point sharpness. To describe this as an electro equivalent to punk however, would only undermine (maybe offend) the very concepts and lengths the duo go to in making their sounds emanate a kind of testing, and ultimately distrustful lenience. I do come to tracks like At The End Of It All and suspect the emotion and the personal affliction is not only lacking, but has disorientated ADULT.'s perception on how to present this in sound-form. The percussion electronics are more frontal, and Kuperus' vocals seem to feel slightly withdrawn, taken a back even. Because of it, the analog tones and, as we've experienced, the engaging variances are given even more of an uphill task to try and create some means of interaction with its listener. Unfortunately, the task becomes an impossibility that sadly whimpers behind the direct shuffle of percussive beats that provide more rhythm and drive than necessarily a reflection of Kuperus' anxious lyricism. Thankfully, follower Nothing Lasts works the complete opposite route in its layering, and gives the grit and gravel of the analog synths present, some much-needed and rewarding space. Straight away, because of this, not only do we have the momentum and the select pacing, but the textures that come knocking and crashing against the tumble of percussion hits and Kuperus' more outspoken variance, creates a lot more of an atmosphere than a simple hi-hat of electronic percussion. 'It's what you want, it's what they want...but what you want and what you need can be the same/Because sometimes you lose and sometimes you gain' Kuperus beats out in pulses that are both securely-fastened at times, and voluntarily ejected in others.

Perhaps, hindsight present, it would have been better had ADULT. invested a little more time with their sounds when the overall track - and the direction they put on interaction between one another composite - doesn't feel as puzzling or as emotionally boggled as A Day Like Forever is. While there are some deservedly rich textures and blossoming-out of tones in-between vocal passes - synths gleaming and sheering like new-age revelations - for a five-and-a-half minute track, length-wise the music is devoid of any strong connotations in its movement and its trajectory. The sounds do well at carving texture. But on a sequential base however, I find the void of atmosphere and musical geography to let this offering down. We Will Rest does vastly improve on this, because of how tense and troublesome the synthesizer tones come off as. While not directly menacing or intentionally stricken with a dark personality, the sounds do capture a sense of concern and tension that makes the music's slowed-down approach come across as a sought reason for variance. But even when the synth sounds in question begin to become crowded and packed into a group of drum machine beats and siren-like looping of electronics, the sounds these other instrumental accompaniments offer, add rather than remove the atmosphere present. And that's not including the chime of bells that steer closer and closer to the listener's focus. Before long, while darting in small pockets of differing directions, the music does enough to generate the overwhelming anxiousness it strives for, without confusing its listener or even making a mess of itself.

It's a shame then that we don't get as much the same attention-grabbing imposition throughout this album as ADULT. brilliantly profess in parts to be able to create with such simple mechanics and stripped-back synthesizer leads. The Way Things Fall, contextually, definitely manages to archetype a field of struggle and skepticism, as much as it is expresses a certain state of decline that the album cover, could have faltered, in trying to speak more volumes of than the music itself. But the ideas generating from the moment we see this image come through in well-executed majorities here. And save for the occasions when the duo's simplicity for sound becomes their downfall, ADULT. know the power of techno and synth-pop is as much a joy of the future possibility, as it is a revelation on how grim and troubling it potentially/inevitably might become. But this isn't directly beaten down on the listener as if mandatory. For those who may not want to be led through an album (and an electronic one at that) that speaks, in repeated patterns, of something politically or socially motivated, there's more than enough to grab listeners in its simple rhythmic meeting of the analog and the polynomial. And given Nicola Kuperus' unhinged attempts to add flare and flavour to a sound deliberately gray-scale in its lack of reverb and other mounting variations of processing effects, there's plenty of tone to this record (because of it) that doesn't show simple content in painting the halls in some bright, floral shade of colour.
~Jordan

7.5

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