Adult Books // Running From The Blows
Recommended Track(s): Firewalking
As a teenager I worked summers at a grocery store in the upscale suburb north of town. I was assigned to the prepared foods section, and my job largely consisted of standing in a walk-in freezer and stuffing giant rotisserie spikes through whole raw chickens, stern to bow, three birds to a beam. Most days I’d take my dad’s old blue Saab convertible (just a little too new to be “vintage” rather than just “old”; he got it when my parents split up). I used to feel like a boss driving that car to my job, top down, Bowie or Zeppelin on the 6-cd changer in the trunk – right up until I pulled into the parking lot and had to strap into my meat gloves.
That’s right where Adult Books takes me, which is to say that they fit into the tradition of parents’-garage rock that runs, thematically, through Blink back to the Cure and beyond. The main difference from those bands is that Adult Books are self-conscious and reflective; they recognize the angst, but they put big air quotes around it.
Those who got their hands on the band’s first release, a (great) 6-track tape from 2012, will find that here they’ve gone in a different direction. Running From the Blows isn’t really a straight melodic punk record in the same way as the tape: it’s breezier, more pop, and chock full o’ vintage synth. The guitar leads are from the school of Johnny Marr, melodic, clean and chorused; the vox are still snotty at times, but in basically every song there’s a huge hook.
They still tend to traffic in self-awareness, though. The paradigm is “I Don’t Think I Can Stay,” in which the narrator’s self-righteous anger keeps getting deflated when banal details intrude on his attention: “I pull my pockets out of my jeans/I drop my change/I pick up my change.” Ditto “Silver Lake Goths,” which lovingly takes the piss out of the LA scene via big, pompous vox and fat drums. But elsewhere, even if in the margins, this LP sees Adult Books willing to tackle reality – or their own hesitation to engage it – with a grim stoney forthrightness.
Much of the first side is a balancing act between a tight, ratchety sort of post-punk (the Pink Flag side of the family) and the band’s strong 80s revival and pop instincts. The lyrical trend across the first tracks is toward failed and failing love, but the result can still be pure candy, as is the case with “Suburban Girlfriend,” which announces itself as The Single pretty much immediately. That song gives a great argument for Adult Books’ approach in three minutes: it’s a sardonic fantasy about regressing to a slower-paced lifestyle and ignoring real life (“cable TV in her bed/I want a suburban girlfriend/I don’t want to be in my head”), matched with classically earwormy melodies and honest-to-gosh backing oohs. I would totally have cranked that in my dad’s convertible. I won’t be surprised if a lot of kids are doing the same this summer.
Somewhere in the middle of the record the band takes a deep dive into the Smiths/New Order side of their personality, and it’s encouraging. “Nihilism for Beginners” and especially “Firewalking” might actually be the most interesting songs of the bunch – leaning on the synth and lean, tight bass, they remind me of Motorama’s first record. (This is also when the darker lyrical themes start to seem more seriously taken.) Then, abruptly, things get loud. “Lobby Talks” is the banger: big hollow Jesus and Mary Chain guitar, and then, when they’re done with the preliminaries, a “TV Eye”-inspired skronk-down. Festival bookers take note.
The record closes with the hazy, regretful “Visions / Revisions,” which is about feeling like you’ve left yourself exposed by saying too much: “Thoughts given as they leave my brain/I want them back again.” Wholly appropriate for a band that usually maintains ironic distance from the real weirdness, but given how well letting a little darkness in seems to be working here, you leave hoping they don’t follow that impulse too closely.