adult-the-way-things-fall1[xrr rating=2.25/5]There was a time in music that people don’t talk about very often. It was transitional and influential but most would agree it was delightfully brief. Like that period after you decide you want to grow your short hair long, when you have to endure an uncomfortable mid-state while awaiting the end goal. It’s as necessary as it is willfully forgotten. The sound that emerged during this time in musical history has not survived except to make an occasional reappearance for nostalgia’s sake or, some would say appropriately, for the purposes of mockery.

This was an era when punk rock was already exerting an influence on mainstream popular culture by bleeding into pop. At the same time we saw the rise of the drum machine and the analog synthesizer, making it easy for that do-it-yourself aesthetic to cross over to the bleeps and bloops of early electronic music. But before the balance could be found, there had to be at least one Devo and many more who would fade into obscurity before they would ever evolve into a Kate Bush or Depeche Mode. New Wave would be the successful result of that evolution and on the other side techno and house went on to blossom into their own pop genres. But the failures had long since been buried – or so it seemed.

Detroit’s ADULT. have been burning candles, forming a dark circles and summoning those dead sounds since 1998. The music is exactly as you’d expect it to be — simplistic and familiar drum patterns, dated and aged synth sounds long since worn out by cheesy science fiction film soundtracks. Remarkably, even the production values don’t seem to have been brought into the present day, and on their new release, The Way Things Fall, the bass and snare drums click and tap flatly. It becomes very clear that ADULT. aren’t trying to make modern electronic music. They’re not trying to roll with the times and make relevant music. If they’ve succeeded at all, it’s in authentic recreation. This is a museum curiosity, an aged sound you sympathetically escort up and down the halls of the musical hospice. ADULT. is to new wave as the Darkness is to hair metal, riding an ambiguous line between homage and total parody of the worst aspects of the genre.

Though the opening synth line on “Heartbreak” sounds promising, it’s not until the oddly tuned horn notes and the first overly dramatic vocals of Nicola Kuperus that you realize this is not a typical 2013 release. Taking the punk vocal aesthetic to a curious extreme, she overdoes the disregard for note-holding, managing to send the single word chorus into unpredictable places at unexpected times. If it’s Johnny Rotten singing, buried under walls of guitar riffage, that works really well. Bouncing along to boom-click march of an elderly drum machine instead makes it sound like a misguided high school band — in a 1983 episode of “Square Pegs”.

If there’s one glimmer of interest in what ADULT. has done here, it’s sparked by the songwriting. In the hands of another producer, vocalist or arranger, these songs would be amazing. The lyrics, unlike the sound, are accessible, well written and intriguing. It’s something of a waste. As I listened to “Tonight, We Fall,” I could imagine someone singing the vocal melody along with an acoustic guitar at half the speed and without the contrived drama to great results. Though the songs vary with respect to the sounds used, there is little that is memorable or unique about any of them. “Love Lies” is a little slower than the rest but there were no stand-out tracks for me. After many listens a record will usually start to resolve into highs and lows, tracks that merit skipping and those worth repeating. With this record, I just wanted it to be over as a whole experience. Kuperus’ key-shifting monotone vocals warble along like someone doing a mock robot voice from a black and white sci-fi film.

This is a record from the future, as seen through the eyes of someone in 1970. The whole thing is an exercise in nostalgia for an era that I am not sure anyone really misses. Though there’s a modicum of seriously good electronic music on “We Will Rest”, it’s not enough to redeem the record — especially when Kuperus’ vocals lay it to waste. ADULT. seems to have found themselves a niche, stuck inside a stagnant time capsule from the musical in-between. The result is polarizing – either a smile and a laugh as you dance around your kitchen doing a hokey version of the robot for the entertainment of your guests or an outright dismissal because you’re all grown up now. I did both.

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