It's easy to forget that when Adult. started out, the Detroit outfit was lumped in with turn-of-the-millenium electroclash acts. Though husband-and-wife duo Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus shared the genre's new wave-meets-art-punk aesthetic on paper, the couple was always more obtuse and insular than its unwitting peers. The group didn't cultivate a glitter-flecked stage presence like Fischerspooner, or practice theatrical aggression like Chicks on Speed, and instead saturated its sterile music with a skeptic's paranoia and a sense of uncompromising mayhem. Often, the band's mixture of post-punk, coldwave, and chilly techno was used like a scalpel to make the listener feel supremely uneasy. (The title for the band's second LP, Anxiety Always, still reads like a mission statement.) Now, six years after Adult.'s Why Bother? LP, its new record is finally seeing a release. And though Miller and Kuperus may have been absent for a while, their extended hiatus doesn't appear to have changed their bleak worldview. The Way Things Fall may represent a more streamlined version of the band, but Adult.'s commitment to churlish electro-punk is as staunch as ever.
That said, there's a reason why Miller says The Way Things Fall is the closest Adult. has ever come to writing "traditional pop songs." "Idle (Second Thoughts)," for instance, harnesses spiky synths and drum machines for a track that's more fun than most would've expected. Dark phrases like "I fear because you can't sleep through the violence" are balanced by Miller's glossy new-wave production. Even Kuperus' voice, while still staccato and sneering, is more melodic than ever before. The band edges even closer toward actual pop with "Love Lies," an icy quasi-ballad that marks a mid-album highlight. Mixing bitterness and nostalgia, the track hangs in the air like stale cigarette smoke. "Love love love love lies lies lies lies love lies/It's no surprise," sings Kuperus, as the hypnotic chorus becomes her mantra. Emotional dread seems to be the couple's new boogeyman.
2007's Why Bother? saw Adult.'s songwriting move toward less frenetic arrangements, but The Way Things Fall takes things one step further, as it's truly content to let songs patiently slip into their own grooves. Apparently, the band had only intended to return to the studio to record a 12", but found itself with more ideas than just two songs could hold. The resulting tracks seem united by a consolidated central vision perhaps found during that recording process; there's a remarkable consistency to the LP. One key aspect of this cohesion is the use of rhythm and space throughout the record. Adult. has always used Krautrock elements as touchstones, but The Way Things Fall features some of the pair's most motorik drum programming to date. Synth stabs seem to rip through a vacuum, and each new element hits like precision clockwork. "New Frustration" has echoes of Neu! in its tightly wound construction. The droning "A Day Like Forever" unfurls slowly, its pulsating dread wrapping around the listener like a velvet blanket covered in disturbing, high-pitched notes. "An hour is like a day/A day like forever," Kuperus sings while sludgy synths bolster her statement. Another success is "Nothing Lasts," an overtly New Order-recalling track that's about as colorful as a '90s Nickelodeon game show—only devoid of the laughs and levity.
If the Detroit group's past efforts were meant to provoke and disquiet audiences at all costs, perhaps The Way Things Fall could be seen as having a spoonful of sugar to ease the bitter medicine's taste. The angst and abrasiveness inherent to Adult. is still present in some form (even a quick look at track names like "Nothing Lasts," "At the End of It All," and "Heartbreak" reveals that much), but the band has undoubtedly smoothed things over and pushed its sound closer to the dancefloor. And yet, despite having calmed the spastic energy it was so indebted to for the past decade, Adult. still exudes danger with every bleak, atonal verse and rigid drum-machine pattern.