The push and pull, the grind and click of time, is felt throughout Adult Themes, the debut album from Strangelight. Some of the material on this record was debuted fifteen years ago. Yet the band only formed relatively recently. The record was recorded in only three days. Those three days happened to coincide with the final week Oakland, California was free of severe lockdown restrictions earlier this year.
To extrapolate on the seeming dichotomy of old material with new band – in the early years of the 00s vocalist and guitarist Nat Coghlan and drummer Julia Lancer met on tour (with Transistor Transistor and The New Truth, respectively), struck a connection and hammered some rough demos. All this time later, the two reconnected and decided to record a debut album using the material, bringing in friends Tony Texeira (Swingin Utters & more) and Ian Miller (Kowloon Walled City).
Named after a Fugazi track, Strangelight bring a post-punk band with garage rock swagger built upon a foundation that could best be described as having the structure and tone of classic 90s post-hardcore. If you’re a fan of Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes, Coghlan’s new project will most definitely be for you.
The quartet deliver ten songs in just twenty-five minutes. Despite that short running time, the band manage to inject a large amount of ennui into their debut.
This is an album not filled with teenage angst about spurned love, or furious political statement. Rather, it addresses something closer to many, especially those in their late 30s, early 40s or older: the sheer monotony of adulthood, the tough personal yet seemingly mundane issues heads are far more often cluttered with than more abstract political or philosophical problems. This is a record of career moves, mortgages and pension plans. It’s no less venomous, but it’s certainly extremely truthful. In its subject matter and stark realism, the record reminds me of Pissed Jeans or what IDLES have recently done with their recent LPs.
There’s a lot to be said for Adult Themes, with tracks such as ‘Object Permanence’ and closer ‘Adjustable Rate’ sounding like a more world-weary, cantankerous The Murder City Devils. Coghlan’s slightly drawling semi-spoken word sounds like a middle-aged sermon on the mount and all there are some standout riffs, it’s really the rhythm section of Strangelight that truly stands out, with some delicious, lumbering bass and relentless, pounding, exhausted drums providing the only suitable backdrop to the band’s perturbation.
There are plenty of head nodding movements, such as the refrain “Don’t know what to do with these thoughts” on the excellent ‘Gold Rolex’. The entire band gradually seems into your subconscious and is certainly a grower. Initially on the fence with the album, I found it speaking to me, and I returned time and time again.
If there’s an issue with Adult Themes it may be the lack of diversity. This is largely counterbalanced by its intensity and short length, but I would hope that in the future Coghlan and company will include greater dynamic shifts and perhaps some different pacing throughout their sophomore effort, too.
Overall, Strangelight’s debut LP is a fine record that speaks to our modern times – the very real situations and circumstances that affect us personally and preoccupy our minds on a daily basis. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need music to do: to give a voice to that inner anxiety, to recognise it as not unique to oneself, and that – hopefully – shares the load, the burden. Adult Themes is what is says on the tin: a record dealing with the issues we care about in our little lives. It just so happens to kick ass while doing it.
-Echoes and Dust