The Detroit duo ADULT. specialize in taking the acidic music of their homeland back to the old school. From their early “Hand to Phone” days, Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus have embraced BIPPP-style synthwave, the shiny plastic pop of Devo and Depeche Mode, and Suicide’s moody mantras. The results largely collected in electroclash’s pool, with occasional runoff into chiptune and heavily deconstructed techno. But they also became increasingly unglued over time, as ADULT. traded in structured keyboard lines for post-punk strings and vocoders for Kuperus’ No Wave yelping. In 2013 The Way Things Fall suggested that ADULT. could tone down both their anachronism and antagonism without compromising a unique vision. Record sales be damned, it was the closest they had been in years to sounding like a success.
Now comes Detroit House Guests, successfully twisting the dark New Wave suggestions of The Way Things Fall into high-concept artistry. Benefiting from a 2014 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, Kuperus and Miller invited musicians from way under the radar up to heavy hitters such as Douglas J. McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb) and Michael Gira (Swans) to live with them as they worked together on songs. These Detroit house guests (ta-da!) got to perform against the backdrop of this couple’s creative philosophy and everyday mundanity. With this help, ADULT. take the unraveled spaces in their music and fill them in so the music doesn’t just work, but in some cases works better than before: the aural equivalent of Japanese kintsugi pottery.
McCarthy and Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess feature on a pair of tracks—”We are a Mirror” and “We Chase the Sound,” respectively—with clear connections between electronic body music and the kind of work ADULT. assembled at the turn of the century. These are exciting exceptions to the rule of the rest of the music produced from these sessions, full of the same dizzying perspective as mid-2000s ADULT. releases like Gimmie Trouble but with far more purpose and focus. The duo and their new friends largely split the remainder of this album’s running time between growling, hissing art-pop like “P rts M ss ng” (with Lichens) or “As You Dream” (with Gira), and a set of eerie narrative atmospheres (“Into the Drum,” “Inexhaustible,” “This Situation”).
The structured noise and wobbly electronics dominating Detroit House Guests recall some of industrial’s great experimentalists. Surely Coil were discussed over dinner and Einsturzende Neubauten were played on the porch, because these songs often rise to meet them. Yet for as solid as this album feels, there’s ultimately still a sense of adding grit in order to polish tumbled stones. So ADULT. have a new challenge ahead: chiseling out a gem all their own, without the aid of a bevy of trusted assistants.
Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.