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Blade Runners

The Replicant Dance-Rock of Detroit Duo Adult. Evolves into Something More Human

By Michael Alan Goldberg | Posted 4/23/2003

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm feeling kind of numb," admits Adult. singer Nicola Kuperus, by way of introduction.

That hardly seems surprising--after all, she's supposed to be the Detroit electro duo's resident vocal android, owner of the aloof robo-tone that's buzzed austerely since 1998's Dispassionate Furniture 12-inch EP. So what's up? Is it a dearth of sensitivity brought on by living in a cold, miserable world? Is it the paralytic effect of deep personal trauma, or too many images of war and endless suffering?

"Actually, I just got back from the dentist," she says. "I had a cracked filling."

So she is mortal. And like the novocaine slowly subsiding from her jaw, much of the dehumanized dance floor machinations that marked Adult.'s previous efforts have seeped away on its new album, Anxiety Always. Until now, the group has been adept at preserving a sense of modern day alienation and detachment--the loss of the individual soul to technology, materialism, and rampant corporatization that infamously troubled such electronic-pop visionaries as Kraftwerk and Gary Numan--through rigid, synthetic compositions gripping in their clinical iciness. Anxiety Always travels a similarly tense and paranoid landscape, but Adult. offers a bit more flesh and blood this time, partially disengaging itself from artificial devices to impart a throbbing, emotional ache that's more engrossing than anything the band has done before.

As the title suggests, recent times haven't exactly been carefree for Adult., and it's not helping that Kuperus' anesthetized lips can't pull a drag off of husband (and Adult. instrumentalist programmer) Adam Lee Miller's cigarette to relax.

"Anxiety is definitely a personality trait," she laughs.

Miller concurs, adding that the stresses are as much self-imposed as involuntary. "It's so many things," he begins. "It's this weird thing where this is our second album, which is the one that tends to get critically destroyed. But to us it's our first album because [2001's] Resuscitation was a collection of previously released singles, so there's that thing of trying to make it perfect. And then there's the fact that when we were working on this album, we knew people were gonna anticipate it, whereas nobody knew who we were when we put out Resuscitation. It's just been complete anxiety all the way through."

He's not kidding. Though Kuperus and Miller focused on writing the new album for more than a year, they were waylaid by numerous distractions before they could even punch one new sequence into the computer. Last year, of course, was the year electroclash broke, and Adult. found itself flooded with interview requests from media outlets who considered it a cornerstone of the movement, even though the duo bristled at efforts to lump it into a scene it saw as cheesy, over-marketed, watered-down, and devoid of substance. Wary of the inevitable backlash, the pair often went on record to admonish other unnamed acts for "spoiling it for everyone" by jumping on the bandwagon (a stance they've grown weary of even acknowledging at this point).

The attention created another complication, albeit a nicer one--it led to a flurry of new interest in Ersatz Audio, the couple's seven-year-old neo-electro label. It's truly a two-person operation, run out of their modest home on the outskirts of the Motor City, and the suddenly overwhelming demands of the business bit into their recording plans. Top that with a load of remix projects, plus a lengthy national tour with Trans Am, and it's a wonder Kuperus and Miller ever managed to retreat to their attic studio last fall to begin work on the album.

It's not shocking, however, that once they got there they realized their energy, creative and otherwise, was almost entirely sapped. "We immediately recorded 'Nothing Of the Kind,' which was written right before we went on tour, and we were really happy with it," Miller recalls. "And then we hit the biggest brick wall, just the worst case of writer's block. We'd come up with something and be like, 'Aw, man, that sounds too disco-y,' or 'Geez, what are we, Metallica?' Everything just stopped, and I mean we literally spent all day, for weeks and weeks straight, in the studio with absolutely nothing working and nothing satisfying us.

"It was like, 'OK, we finally have the time--let's get started,'" Kuperus adds. "Which became, 'Oh shit, where did all those ideas go that I had five months ago?'"

So how does one deal with such an impasse? "Lots of hard liquor," Kuperus laughs. "And we cleaned up the studio and put new carpet in--that helped a ton."

"It did!" Miller concurs. "I think we also went out and bought a couple of pedals. But basically it was just a good old-fashioned work ethic, and trying to stay patient. We forced ourselves to sit at the computer or grab the bass and try all sorts of ideas and techniques until something clicked."

If anything, the sum total of all these varying sources of distress seems to have split Anxiety Always into several personalities, one of the first being a distinctly industrial manifestation. "Shake Your Head" twitches like VIVIsect VI-era Skinny Puppy, with Kuperus' malevolent sneers and insolent phrasing complementing Miller's fluid, menacing analog sequences and stark drum snaps to form gritty industro-funk palpitations. The group's chilly electro past also drops in for a visit in two eerie instrumentals: "The Cold Call" and "Nervous (Wreck)." Elsewhere, a tense, buzzy, post-punk persona dominates--the snotty, confrontational lyrics and driving, distorted basslines of "Glue Your Eyelids Together" and "Turn Your Back" suggest a back-alley tussle between a young Siouxsie Sioux or Poly Styrene and the members of Joy Division. Swap the latter for New Order in a rematch five years later and you've got the final, and perhaps best, track, "Kick In the Shin," in which all the divergent personalities manage to converge into one brilliant and perfectly realized entity.

While the instrumentation is more organic than Adult.'s previous output, it's Kuperus' vocals--confident, brazen, sardonic, and now mostly freed from their ultra-processed shackles--that really inject life into Anxiety. Like her noir-ish, cinematic photographs that adorn all of Adult.'s releases (her work's also been published in numerous style and music magazines), Kuperus usually pens enigmatic lyrics that dance around images of violence, neurosis, corruption, and sex without fully spelling things out. A notable exception, though, is the tongue-in-cheek "We Know How To Have Fun," which takes a swipe at the ongoing perception of the duo as ultra-stern and unapproachable. "I say sure, why not/ Let's have a conversation/ You won't find me laughing/ Oh, we're having fun," she deadpans.

"People usually come up to us very nervously," says Miller. "And then after a few sentences they're like, 'Wow, you guys are actually really nice.' People think we're humorless or something."

"Yeah, and when I used to have long black hair I would always get, 'Oh you mean you're really not some Russian dominatrix?'" Kuperus laughs. "I always got the 'mean Russian woman' thing. And I'm Dutch."

Whatever the expectations, Adult. is truly excited about the current tour, its biggest one to date. Sure, the performance aspect presents yet another source of anxiety for the couple, but Miller believes it will ultimately alter more than a few preconceptions: "I think people will start to think of us maybe a little more as a band, and not so much as robots who just boot up songs from the desktop of a computer."

Adult. Plays the Black Cat April 28 with Tamion 12 Inch.

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