Sunday, August 17, 2008

Takes - Adem


Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 69%

Multi-instrumentalists are an interesting breed of musician. If they aren't already a solo artist, they quickly become one because they know everything. Why wait on someone else's banjo/piano/flute/horn accompaniment when you can just do it yourself? And the way you want it?!? For all their knowledge and talents (be it Adem, Sufjan Stevens, whoever), their greatest gift just might be their humble nature. In it for the craft and not the glory, these artists are the antithesis to the infamous ego; Paul McCartney writing full Beatles albums and trying to get them to play along, or Billy Corgan taking credit for performing all guitar and bass duties on Siamese Dream because his band's efforts weren't good enough. Part of living for the craft is paying your dues, which Adem has chosen to do on Takes; a covers record of all his favourite songs growing up. It's an idea I think most audiophiles can appreciate - we've all made mixtapes for our friends and lovers - and for serious Adem-fans who've heard these covers performed for years in his shows, Takes can be weighed as his official third album just as reasonably as a covers side-project.

The question: with only two albums under his belt (Fridge material notwithstanding) and a ton of creative ideas on display, is Takes a good idea? My answer, unprepared as it is: kinda. The first mention of a covers record immediately rules out several expectations, the obvious being original material, as focus will be on the cover selections. Thematic passages and lyrical content that gave distinction to Homesongs and Love and Other Planets are absent here, so much of an album's regular thunder is replaced with the anticipation of wondering how the Turkish Englishman will handle the likes of Bjork, Aphex Twin, PJ Harvey and the Smashing Pumpkins. Yes, it's an eclectic group of inspirational artists that, perhaps unsurprisingly, turns Takes into a mixed bag; half could be Adem originals (the coy melody and subtle distortion of 'Bedside Table', the warm confessional of 'Hotellounge'), the other half inching beyond his comfort zone. Pinback's 'Loro' maintains its steady tempo but is softened by acoustic taps and hypnotic backing vocals, while 'To Cure a Weakling Child' finds Adem overcoming a principle challenge by first spinning Aphex Twin's acid-beats into a pastoral acoustic ditty, and then blowing it to epic levels (lots o' percussion, toy piano, and gadgetry) without losing the original's romantic quality. When Takes falters, it's because Adem has picked songs that are originally fantastic and difficult to spin comfortably into something new. Bjork's 'Unravel' is one such misfire, as it was for Thom Yorke in his cover, because neither singer could perform her vocal melody without it sounding strained. Lisa Germano's 'Slide' suffers from striking a similar plateau, where Adem's voice, unique and enjoyable as it is, simply can't wrap itself around the original's intonation without sounding sluggish. As I said, by design, it's all about the songs.

As a one-off project, Takes arrives on a whim and, even when it's not particularly great, it remains pleasurable in its novelty. That said, I wouldn't rest on this for long if I was Adem. Until the next official step in his young career, this folk singer has given us a generous stop-gap release, one worth admiring for its ambition as ardently as Adem clearly loves these twelve songs, orchestrated and fleshed out, from his formidable years. And, as is typical of our multi-instrumentalist, he shines the spotlight on his muses, not himself. It's no wonder everyone only knows of Fridge as "that band with Four Tet".

No comments: