Typically an album of covers would not grab my interest, but when one is done by Adem, it is most definitely worth a listen. My obsession with the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adem has been well documented here on The Tripwire, from first hearing his music live as the opener for Badly Drawn Boy, followed by reviewing his previous two albums, Homesongs and Love And Other Planets. The UK indie-folk artist has crafted a very distinct sound through his use of non-traditional instrumentation, providing the perfect backdrop for his spine-chilling vocals.
Up until now, he refrained from entering a true recording studio, opting to work on his music at home. The warmth from those recordings added charm to his earlier works. For Takes, his third full-length effort, he decided to take advantage of the equipment available in a proper studio, recording the songs at Miloco. Although the production is a bit cleaner and the sound is fuller, he did maintain the warmth and personable vibe from the first two albums, just expanded a bit.
With Takes, Adem decided to select songs from other artists as an exploration of his influences. He found that his musical tastes were really developed from 1991 to 2001, which is the era from which the songs he selected to cover were originally recorded. Your typical covers album can come across as a half-assed way to release a record, eliminating the time necessary to write material and arrangements. This is not the case with Adem, who truly made each of these songs his own. From PJ Harvey's "Oh My Lover" to dEUS' "Hotellounge," his trademark style adds a whole new intimate setting for these classic tracks.
Adem's version of PJ Harvey's "Oh My Lover," puts a very different spin on the song. Although the pain and angst from Harvey's voice and electric guitars is gone, he replaced them with a haunting subtle change in melody, complete with a lush chorus that does the song justice. One of the more fascinating selections on Takes is his spin on Aphex Twin's "To Cure A Weakling Child/Boy Girl Song." In fact, I had to pull out my copy of Richard D. James Album to remember how the original version went, as Adem's rearrangement put a spotlight on the hypnotic melody. Gone are the spastic drum loops and eerie child vocals from the classic, replaced by acoustic guitars, xylophone, delicate percussion and layers of Adem's vocals.
One thing that has always been a constant in Adem's music is the emotion in his vocals, which shine through on "Tears Are In Your Eyes" (Yo La Tengo) and "Unravel" (Bjork). Another surprisingly amazing moment on Takes is his rendition of Smashing Pumpkins' "Starla." Stripped down to acoustic guitars and the drone of what sounds like the bowing of an upright bass, it slowly builds to a goose-bump inspiring chorus as it swells to a brilliant chorus. It is moments like this on the record where his time in a true recording studio really become apparent, something I hope to see more of in his future releases.
Takes offers an interesting look into the musical development of Adem as both a music fan as well as a musician. Many of the artists and songs he selected might pop up on our own lists of influences as we discovered our own musical paths. Giving the songs of Bedhead, Lisa Germano, Tortoise, The Breeders, Low and many others his own eclectic arrangements, he has done more than just create a covers album. By constructing a new framework for many of these classic tracks, he has taken the basic blueprints from the originals and created something equally beautiful and totally his own.