Okay, I still haven’t heard Homesongs, Adem’s debut, which people seem to love, so I may be treading on some thin ice here, comparison-wise; but truth is, you don’t need to have heard that apparent homespun masterpiece to recognize Love and Other Planets’s quiet, organic beauty. But this is no folky campfire singalong — Adem’s got Love (the concept) on his mind, and his exploration of it is sophisticated, literate and surprisingly affecting.
In Adem’s universe, Love is the primitive machine that powers unicycles, gramophones, calipers, a telescope, a beating heart, and a Bunsen Burner heating the revolution of nine planets and the eye of the sun. The idea is stated most clearly on the album’s title track, when Adem sings:
on a clear night / If you look close enough / You can just make out / Love and other planets / We are not alone
Love, for Adem, is a source of comfort in a cold world (“Something’s Going to Come”), a catalyst for healing after loss (“Crashlander”), or the miraculous discovery of a new planet (“You and Moon”) — always, a vehicle for hope.
In Adem’s musical universe, acoustic guitars and layered vocal harmonies are the sun, around which orbit a plethora of instruments — violin, keyboards, simple percussion — are occasionally adorned with electronica’s steady forward-push (perhaps attesting to the fact that the album is mixed by Kieren Hebden (of Four Tet) in collaboration with Adem (the two played together previously in Fridge). This is perhaps best illustrated on “X is for Kisses”, where Adem’s backing vocals get chopped up into a perpetual-motion chug reminiscent of one of Herbert’s experimentations.
But before we get too wishy-washy, be assured: Adem’s cloudy-eyed romanticism is cloaked in a strong melodic sense. The best songs on Love and Other Planets are as immediate and appealing as you could hope for, particularly from an electro-folk project with this much thought at stake. Let’s highlight three songs you just have to hear: “Warning Call” — acoustic guitar emphasized by tambourine and triangle, a gentle sound in gently-shifting time. Adem’s voice cracks easily as he sings words that seem devoid of hope, “If we received a warning call / Would we change at all?”. Beautiful and haunting; “Launch Yourself”: from the first, this is a song to cherish. The narrative flow here is paramount, easily catching and holding the listener by connecting phrases into flowing sentences. Is this beautiful lament about lost love, or suicide?; “X is for Kisses”: opens like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cloudy”, with a more jittery accompaniment of cut-up vocal parts. This song is smart, and grows on the listener with the same mature pop sound as the White Birch, though the voice and overall sound are more organic.
Love and Other Planets is just what we need in a cold world too full of war and hatred, in which chemicals hidden in shampoo containers mix mid-air to form explosives. The old antidote still holds — Love as guiding light, a cosmic force for equilibrium. Over the course of forty-five minutes, Adem goes from doubt to conviction: “The universe won’t let us down … Holding hands, there’s still some hope”. In an equally short time, Love and Other Planets has become one of my favorite CDs of the year.