Blessedly, Bemusedly, Britishly Beautiful
Adem Illhan has put out some truly tremendous music prior to this solo debut, but nobody realised this, as it was put out by post-rock godheads Fridge, of whom Four Tet is also a member. Given the increasingly huge (and fully justified) amount of attention Kieran Hebden has been receiving in the past few years, failing to remember that there were two other musicians in the trio behind the anonymously instrumental gorgeousness of the classic Happiness is perhaps understandable. Since Hebden’s ascendance, however, he appears to have been much too busy for there to be further Fridge forays, and what with the bedroom producer having gained further status on the scene with the emergence of laptop-wielding, multi-instrumentalist virtuosos like Quantic or John Xela, this is a fine time for Adem to go it alone.
As the title would suggest, the intangible air of warmth and security that pervaded Happiness is still very much part of his musical persona, who wields a more traditional-slanted take on Four Tet’s vaunted folktronica vignettes, letting the emphasis rest on strumming guitars and sinuous accompaniment rather than on cut-up rhythms—in fact, beats of any kind are almost entirely absent. What really marks Adem out from his Fridge cohort, though, is the fact that this is a collection of proper songs, with proper choruses, sung properly by Adem himself (with the occasional aid of family and friends in the background). Whilst his voice is nothing spectacular, its cracked but caring harmonics match the song material to a T, and when he strains for some of the notes, you feel the intensity of his need to convey the emotion in his lyrics rather than any irritation at his limitations. He has that rare ability to simply sing a song, with the unadorned directness of someone who is unbothered by any sense of performing his creations.
His lyrics have the sensitive, stumbling yet poetic appeal of thoughtful heartbreak, delivered with the supportive air of a best friend who knows that, no matter how trite it may sound, things will be alright in a little while. On the opener he captures a moment of magical intimacy: “Statued close together / Hold her in the rain / Hold her like you’ve never done / Let this be a moment / That you won’t forget / That you won’t forget / All your life”, the end of the song a fading of treasured breath and affection, “‘till you die ...”
On “Ringing in My Ear” he muses over the after-effects of a recently finished relationship (“You threw me to the jackals / But the jackals / They showed me a good time / Whilst you were ringing in my ears”), neither depressed nor happy to be free, but still in thrall to what has ended whilst days and weather speed past, unrelished (“it sunned and it rained and it sunned again”). “Pillow” also dwells on recent experiences, this time in a mood of cautious joy, with the harp glissandos near its end capturing the bright glimmering recent memories. It ends with a lone guitar slowly picking out the opening to “Jingle Bells”, the sense of charmingly evoked childhood matching Adem’s tentative “Have I found a home?”
The anthemic centrepiece of the album, “These are Your Friends”, paints a picture with “you’ve thrown yourself / Into the flames / But you’re covered in cold / But these are your friends / Who give out a nice warm glow” and then glides slowly to the halfway mark, before dying down as Adem quietly intones “Everybody / Needs some help / Sometimes”, the mantra taken up with increasing zeal as he is joined a chorus of friends and the backing builds through layers of guitars, flutes, glockenspiel, and waves of rippling brushed percussion into a surge of acknowledgement and cameraderie, everything bar luminous threads vanishing once more at the end to leave both Adem and the listener stripped bare yet clad in glowing self-belief and acceptance.
My personal favourite, “The Long Drive Home”, perfectly distils the unhappiness of spending time in the presence of someone you love who, for whatever reason, is refusing to open up to you (“Do you believe in me / Enough to say so?”), whilst resonantly capturing the feel of two people who both feel they’ve been unfairly treated: “I don’t know what I’ve done / But we haven’t talked for hours” and “You’re looking at me / Like you think / That I started the war”, his voice breaking on the falsetto, being great examples.
Even without taking in “One in a Million”‘s confrontation with being humdrum (“I’m a fish in the sea / Would you know what you saw? I’m one in a million / Got to try / To be more”) and the hearty, accordion-accompanied tavern singalong of closer “There will always be”, this is clearly an album for those bad weekends when you need a good cry, a cup of tea, some biscuits and a little woefully resolute Britishness.
Now, will someone please help me track down Fridge’s third member, in order to force him into a recording studio at gunpoint?