Indie cover albums are, it seems, the order of the year. Following Cat Power’s Jukebox of Chan Marshall’s influences and Decemberist Colin Meloy’s third album of tributary renditions (this time aimed at gospel singer Sam Cooke), Adem Ilhan (one half of experimental post-rock duo Fridge and creator of two solo sets of warm, spacey folk-pop) has also risked a foray into replicative territory. It’s an odd tack, by all accounts, given the success of his previous offerings Homesongs and Love and Other Planets, and the somewhat ad hoc premise of Takes, which collects together Ilhan’s choice selections from 1991-2001. Nevertheless, like Meloy and Marshall before him, Adem’s tone is complimentary and earnest rather than ostentatiously novel. Indeed, Takes is compiled of pretty much what you’d expect the young adulthood of a prospectively prolific musical experimenter to have been immersed in, with underground luminaries and indie darlings such Pinback, PJ Harvey, Björk, the Breeders and Low exposed as the seeds which would ultimately form Fridge’s (perhaps, less renowned) half.
But where Meloy tackled the objects of his affection with naught but a gobful of earnest but affable whimsy, Adem does so with a menagerie of musical whirlygigs, if no less sincerity. His sound remains mostly the same as on his self-penned material: mellow, warm and earthy. This means that, at Takes‘s best, a newfound gentility is lent to areas it previously left ungraced. The most obvious case in point is an ambitious integration of Aphex Twin’s “To Cure a Weakling Child” and “Boy/Girl Song” which replaces the former’s cut-up infant vocal with Adem’s own half-sighed-half-crooned huskiness, and Richard David James’s electronic abrasion with a gradual swell of comparatively wholesome guitars, banjos and keys. As the album’s most dramatic departure and most spellbinding offering, placed at its mid-point it serves as Takes‘s worthy centrepiece.
Elsewhere, however, what is perhaps surprisingly being billed as Adem’s third album proper scrubs up well for entirely different reasons. “Loro” is positively overflowing with superb melodies exactly because of it lack of deviation from the laidback sweetness of Pinback’s original, while Ilhan’s take on Low’s “Laser Beam”, too, owes its melting gossamer heart to the Minnesota trio. If ever the gap between the initial sparks and Adem’s own creative input is bridged evenly, it is on his interpretation of dEUS’s “Hotellounge”, which strips the original down to its bare timbers and placates them with the tip-toeing of a xylophone, but nonetheless remains securely grounded in the glory of the Belgians’ version and in particular Tom Barman’s morose pessimism.
Not everything on Takes comes out smelling of roses, however. Yo La Tengo’s previously wraithlike “Tears Are in Your Eyes” sounds weary and laboured, while the reduction of Tortoise’s slow-burning, 14-minute “Gamera” to four minutes of acoustic meandering jettisons, rather than condenses, its impact. Biggest misfire, though, is a reinterpretation of Lisa Germano’s “Slide” which aims to construe the original’s waiflike innocence but ends up sounding like a nauseatingly tender moment from a romantic musical (think Smithers’s Malibu Stacey stage production, Simpsons fans).
Thankfully, however, the duds are few and far between, and Takes is a worthwhile, if not always essential, venture. For every “Slide” there is three or four “Loro”‘s, rendering the album a neat little keepsake of (mostly) very good renditions of (mostly) very good songs. But perhaps the most consequential point that can be made about Takes is that its most praiseworthy offering, “To Cure a Weakling Child / Boy/Girl Song” sounds almost nothing like the artist or songs that it reimagines. Takes, like its two Ilhan-penned predecessors, makes it entirely clear that Adem is perfectly capable of crafting multi-instrumented yet intimate folk textures that are far more worthwhile and captivating than anything put out by the ten-a-penny second-rate supposed troubadours, but for that very reason it can’t quite escape the nagging feeling that he’d have been better off simply writing a new album from scratch.