Post-rock and nu-folk linchpin Adem Ilhan has a very good reason for choosing to follow Cat Power and, um, Jo Whiley, by releasing a covers album: the 12 tracks on ‘Takes’ are the songs that shaped his musical life. Why should we care? Because it’s a life that’s constantly pushed music forward, as one half of the legendary Fridge (the other being Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet), founder of the Homefires folk festival and sometime musician with Vashti Bunyan and The Memory Band. Not forgetting his two sparkling solo albums of oddball electro-folk loveliness, ‘Homesongs’ and ‘Love And Other Planets’.
This album is a tribute to the sounds that influenced him. Focusing on the years 1991 to 2001, it encompasses the obvious influences (Aphex Twin, Tortoise) with the less expected (Smashing Pumpkins), and the big names (The Breeders, PJ Harvey) with the more obscure (Bedhead, Lisa Germano). This is an idiosyncratic, softer take on the decade than the usual ‘Nevermind’/‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’/‘OK Computer’/‘Is This It’ narrative. The personal atmosphere of the album is undoubtedly made even cosier by the fact Adem plays everything himself, building up careful layers of elicate instrumentation, plus all manner of found sounds.
High points are many: slowcore heroes Bedhead’s ‘Bedside Table’ arranges gently loping acoustic guitar over an obscure fuzzy vocal low in the mix, before segueing into a coda of the same band’s ‘The Rest Of The Day’; Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Starla’ becomes lazy, hazy shoegaze folk, with layers of bells, chiming acoustic, and odd rattling noises. Better still are a luminous version of Björk’s ‘Unravel’, which shows off Adem’s warm voice, some furious acoustic fingerwork on Tortoise’s ‘Gamera’ and a beautiful melding of the vocal refrain from Aphex Twin’s ‘To Cure A Weakling Child’ over the music to his ‘Girl/Boy Song’.
If there’s a criticism to be made it’s that the album’s perhaps a little one-note. The songs are absorbed into Adem’s own world of sweetness and heartbreak, so that the deranged lust of PJ Harvey’s dirty, grungy ‘Oh My Lover’ ends up in pretty much the same place as the aching beauty of Yo La Tengo’s ‘Tears Are In Your Eyes’. That said, when that place is so beautiful, you’ll hear few complaints. Here’s to putting the love back into covering.