Adulkt Life Break Down Their Post-Punk Debut LP “Book of Curses” Track by Track
The project formed by Huggy Bear’s Chris Rowley and Male Bonding’s John Arthur Webb has a record out via What’s Your Rupture? today.
Depending on your definition of “supergroup,” Adulkt Life are either a handpicked ensemble of some of the U.K.’s most fondly recalled punk acts—spanning the culty riot grrrl of Huggy Bear to the overcast take on West Coast American garage rock of Male Bonding—or just another collection of nobodies who stumbled into each other’s lives at a record store. Either way, Book of Curses sounds as complex as its individual band members’ back stories, fusing the influences of grunge, post-punk, and post-hardcore icons like Flipper, Wipers, and Nation of Ulysses with modern sensibilities.
With their debut record out today, Chris Rowley—co-vocalist for Huggy Bear coming off a quarter-century musical hiatus—gave us an enlightening and frequently cryptic breakdown of each of the record’s tracks, touching upon moral decency, “hopelessfullness,” and raising kids in a world that struggles with such concepts. Reading Rowley’s scattered thoughts on the project, that silent “K” in the band’s name starts to make a little more sense.
Stream the record in full below, and read on for what Rowley had to say.
Simply put, it’s an escape song, it’s the embodiment of too much casual racism and sexism and the need to stop accepting it as part of your day-to-days’ poisons that’s not going to kill you necessarily but… We should all get a sense of humor, right?
It’s a reverse-engineered anthem with all the jingoistic bits and flag-waving burned and buried—our protagonists aren’t ideally suited in a perfect world, but as we said, it’s a messed up one, so tradeoffs in car parks and behind supermarkets better count for something!?
2. “JNR Showtime”
Maybe we’re becoming too mistrustful or cynical about decency and morals and goodness in the world!? The little things that used to give us hope and make us want to love our neighbors—working for a children’s charity for a good few years we’ve heard and seen some stories you would not want in your head…and having children myself you can’t help but become more repelled and vigilante in your thinking however wrong this is to admit. The scumminess of wrongness turned out to be shown for what it is. Cowards and liars should be scared. Always hurts to play this dark rager out, but that’s what you do with poison, innit? Suck then spit!
John’s guitar part translated to the drums and bass so quickly it unlocked a feeling in the room as we practiced it. It’s a plea for authenticity, whatever that means, a song about illusions or cutting through bullshit. Who knows, it’s a series of images linked to what it says in the lyrics—old guys round fires, wanting to be real/looking from a slightly (?) younger point at experience and rich lives lived. But who decides what that is, and if things are tough like they have been for us at points? Is anything better? But this is optimistic, a stone skimmer for the lost generations…
4. “Taking Hits”
This is the Adulkt Life (please don’t worry about pronouncing the “K”) “battle anthem.” We needed to write a song that lifted us up, and the KO’d and arisen scream for deliverance got us there. We were and are a lot of the time about boxing—fights, failures, movies, writing—and this became our backdrop, complete losers (as the idealistic and too sensitive can be) finding a glint or glimmer of something to believe in again! We’ve traded the Joyce Carol Oates book around us a good few rounds, so this is a thanks to no one and for nothing.
I used to love the weird second Flipper album Gone Fishing and really didn’t understand it in the context of what I was listening to at the time, and it’s haunted me a bit with my probable misreadings.
Anyway, John wrote a guitar part that was akin to how I thought the Flipper record was. So it had the subterranean feel and we knew it was going to be a sodium light noir journey of a track, episodic and about revenge, making do, looking after family but risking it all because of your postcode or what yer famz do. The clapping coda is the triumph in the murk if you like…and so we had to name it “Flipper” in homage.
6. “Stevie K”
Kevin’s bass tearing into this idea with Sonny rocking after him set the touchpaper for a cyclone of a track that John sabotages beautifully from a chronological sense with feedback lacunas. It’s meant to be a mod anthem, but who cares about the mods anymore anyway?
So it’s a cool song for Steve Kroner from Nation of Ulysses, a band that we loved and that was ruined for regular life by (they were/are just “too much”) and wanted to cast Kroner as a catcher-in-the-rye type figure, literally beyond good and evil…ice-cream under the pier as bottles fly.
7. “Room Context”
One of the first Adulkt Life songs that sort of arrived fully formed—a paranoia anthem casting spells and occulting damage against those who would trespass against us. The album was originally called “Deliver Us From Evil” for a host of reasons we won’t go into. “Room Context” is against power structures and authority charlatanism. It’s for misfits and outcasts, it reminds me a bit of, like, a record biz version of the De Palma movie The Fury, but I’ll get over that in a week or two. Being an older band, I felt not just like we’d be tarred with an ageist brush maybe, but there were whole swathes of audiences/fans who were not allowed or were shunned from feeling part of something. We don’t hate “the kids,” but we definitely don’t get them anymore.
In the context of feeling separated from activism or rebellion or underground action, because of age or class or gender roles, I tried to write a Wipers song for the disenfranchised using the Kelly Reichardt film Night Moves as the inspirational germ for the narrative. I say all this loosely, but we’re all big film fans and lovers of cinema discourse in Adulkt Life, and that film/filmmaker is “the bomb” as they say—and aptly—here. To move forward we have to get rid of guilt impulses and relationships to past failures or success/require new dialogue. The changes in this are always hard to play if you’ve seen us play the two times so far we have. You’ll know what I’m talking about.
9. “Clean (But Itchy)”
This was Sonny’s defining moment in the young Adulkt Life story. His epic movement of boulders and rock face to scrape and bash this wild styler into shape. John was conducting hot lab sources and Sonny went after him with little concern for his well being. Maybe you can hear this? It’s a lovers’ quarrel played out large—the worst curses, the can’t-take-it-back moments, the no apologies stuff all rolled into one, but perversely it all sounds weirdly sexy, too. Who would’ve thought?
10. “New Curfew”
This ends the Adulkt Life record Book of Curses. Everyone—well, the three people that’ve heard it—think it’s strangely prophetic, and that we were ahead of a curve with prophesying this one, out of the sound dust and word play. Who would’ve wanted to predict where we are now, for goodness sakes, so this is an urban/suburban paean to disappointment, fear, hopelessfullness. In the face of age and responsibilities—the law, your belief/our belief in it, or turning away from it—at a certain point we/you will be replaced and our energies and counter intuitions gone. When you have children of your own or are around kids, you’ll know. They are the future, whether you like it or not. It’s a parents’ prayer in the smoke and petrol.
Channels Mission of Burma through Dizzee Rascal. That was the idea, see what you think.