Orange County is the legendary home to too many punk acts to count, from Black Flag to The Offspring. There’s a certain legacy to live up to if you’re a rising punk band in SoCal, and there’s definitely an established sound that many bands still hew to. It’s no easy task to differentiate one’s aesthetic while still wearing your roots proudly, but that’s exactly what Adult Books have done on their debut full-length, Running From the Blows.
Adult Books have been making the rounds in OC’s house party scene for about four years now, and they’ve got a few releases under their belt through various indie labels, including the UK’s Box Bedroom Rebels and SoCal’s own Burger Records. The band’s first EP release from 2012, in fact, became a landmark hit for the small, DIY-minded Lolipop Records—it’s been their bestselling and most-pressed cassette to date.
Without a doubt, Adult Books have proven their appeal. Since their inception, their surfy punk has been hitting the mark perfectly—it’s catchy, but still rough around the edges. On their full-length release, though, the threesome have successfully driven their sound a couple of steps further, and in the process they’ve found a much more solid and noteworthy identity. Given a name that pays homage to first-wave punk band X, it comes as a surprise that this 11-track album mostly feels like a combination of Joy Division and the Ramones. It’s a smart combination of the former’s penchant for forlorn but sparkling guitar work, and the simple, straightforward pop-punk approach trademarked by the latter. A sprinkle of surf rock over the top makes the end result sound, somehow, both quintessentially Californian and also just outside of the state’s well-worn tradition.
The tracks that lean more decidedly towards post-punk also happen to be Adult Books’ strongest: opener “Casual Wrecks” and closer “Vision Revisions” are my personal favorites, and they make for both a compelling start and finish on Running. Midway through the album, “Firewalking” is an instrumental highlight that features a meandering, pulsating bassline, punchy guitar soloing, and some synth work for good measure. Lyrically, the band melds genuinely dark sentimentality with a touch of wry humor—the sixth track is aptly titled “Nihilism for Beginners.” And like true punk rockers, they take a stab at lampooning big-city phoniness (“Silver Lake Goths”) while also lightheartedly glorifying small town mores (“Suburban Girlfriend”).
It’s clear the band have done some growing up since they first appeared, but they’ve also honed in on a sound all their own, which has really paid off on this album. Though this is only their first full-length release, Running From the Blows comes off as the sound of an experienced group who know what they’re aiming for, and, for the most part, totally nail it. With the sharp eye and ear that they’ve demonstrated so far, there’s no doubt they’ll easily continue to carve out a corner for themselves in the midst of their booming scene.