It's not particularly unusual or odd when a British group records an album in the US. In fact, most prominent UK acts inevitably wind up recording their third or fourth record in sunny Los Angeles. Everyone from Travis to, most recently, Radiohead has made the trip. But how many American groups venture to England to record an album -- let alone their debut? Not many, yet this is precisely what Adom has done. These four Atlanta natives actually picked up and moved to Manchester to record their first full-length, Idiot Savant. The story goes that Adom formed in the Highlands district of Atlanta in 2001 and had begun attracting major label attention almost immediately following their first live appearance, but rather than join the Dreamworks or Sony roster, Adom signed a contract with Manchester-based upstart, Storm Music. Apparently, the label reps had been so impressed with their demo, they flew all the way from the UK to recruit the band. Not only that, but they managed to convince Adom to pick up and move to England, a gamble that rested on the educated guess that their decidedly British sound would earn them notice faster overseas than Stateside.
Needless to say, I was intrigued. Here was a band so committed to their music and career that they were willing to uproot themselves entirely in pursuit of success. But I admit I had my doubts that their strategy would pay off. The two songs posted to their official site, "Green" and the first single, "Down", did not bode particularly well -- both shared a disconcerting similarity to Coldplay, drowning in saccharine-sweet banalities. While I continued to keep tabs on them, my anticipation for the full-length had definitely diminished.
So imagine my surprise upon hearing the first track from Idiot Savant, "God's Busy in the Back Room". Serpentine guitar lines slither and collide as vocalist Conal Byrne gasps for air. The production is thick and dense, in sharp contrast to the soft, porous sound of bands like Coldplay or Travis. In the space of four minutes, Adom work up a tension never even hinted at by the songs on their web page. As the song segues into feverish crescendos of "Plastic" and continues into the new wave-informed pop of "A Cut Cocoon", it becomes apparent that this band is far more ambitious than nearly anyone could have guessed. The rhythmic drumming and staccato bass lines suggest U2 circa Achtung, Baby, the layered production Sigur Ros, the crunching guitars Bends-era Radiohead. But unlike bands like Muse or the Music, who are still trapped in the shadows of their very obvious influences, Adom have managed to reinterpret the familiar and set it down anew. Their shining moment comes with "Concrete Beach". Starting with an icy, trip-hop backdrop, the song abruptly switches gears halfway through, morphing into a furious cacophony of guitars and stampeding drum rolls.
Of course, as with most first offerings, Idiot Savant is not without its failings. Byrne has a tendency to over-enunciate, making it hard to ignore ham-fisted lines like, "God's busy in the back room / He's got the muscles / He's got the tattoos" or "Keep the Band-Aids cheap / Cause she's cut real, real deep". Lyrics like that nearly sink a couple of the songs. Additionally, Adom sometimes sound like they're a bit behind the curve. The template the band is working with is a bit outmoded, having peaked about five to seven years ago when ambitious, proggy pop records like OK Computer and This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours ruled the UK charts. The late arrival doesn't invalidate Adom's achievements, but it does make one wonder if the music has any relevance in 2003.
These criticisms aside, Idiot Savant is still a laudable effort, one whose woozy ambience hints at even greater things on the horizon. Although the album is only available in England at this time, that situation should change in the coming months, when Idiot Savant is released domestically. In the meantime, let's hope this moving-to-England thing doesn't become a trend. It's bad enough that most of today's best acts come from the UK. Do they have to steal our homegrown talent now too?