The immediacy and freewheeling nature of punk is the antithesis of Adult.'s brand of detached, anxious electronics. But after growing tired of being lumped into the electro-clash crowd, Nicola Kuperus and hubby Adam Lee Miller want you to think of Adult. as a punk band. They've bolstered their case by adding touring guitarist Sam Consiglio to the official lineup and unleashing a severe and unforgiving blast of dark electro that was recorded and mixed in only fourteen days. That process lent their songs some D.I.Y. cred in both sound and fury, but it also prevented them from fully developing many of the ideas they present on Gimme Trouble.
Whereas Kuperus once kept time with her monotonous robot drone, now she's letting it rip, and her cold, tortured wails are the defining characteristic of Gimme Trouble. The fast-paced "In My Nerves" screeches its way through the chorus as Kuperus shrieks "Digging in my nerves/ and under my skin/ I just started thinking/ that this is just the way it is." Those moments of balance - another of which occurs during the chorus of the Devo-esque mamba of "Bad Ideas" - when the music stands its ground against Kuperus's voice, are the album's strong points.
The trouble is that those moments are rare. Many of the songs feel as if the trio is content to go a little crazy with sharp vocals and sometimes-circus-y music. On the one hand, it's a bold move that does expand their palette. But in some cases, such as on "Seal Me In," the trio more or less adds guitar noise to a tense, stuttered beat and calls it a day. The beats are less complex, and as a result, Kuperus's repetitive yelps overwhelm the music. It's a pattern that afflicts nearly half the album, and though her detached lyrics bring an edge that keeps the "tunes" fresh, there's just not enough substance to flesh out the ideas. And though her howling is a new step for the band, it's not necessarily something we've never heard before, especially in the realm of dirty electronica that they inhabit.
They've still got a knack for smart songwriting, as evidenced by the schizo vocals and inventive production of "Helen Bach." But much of the record lacks the magnetism that the handful of highlights boasts. A bit of punk magic kicks in when the music can match the intensity of the vocals, and the self-imposed time limits may have produced results unachievable otherwise. But spontaneity is a means, not an end, and unfortunately it often feels like Adult. has mixed up that fact.