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Thursday, September 18, 2014 
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Adem
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Homesongs
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It's a nasty habit of the rock-reviewin' humans — and, hell, swollen media members in general — to set people against each other; like every act must be an act of rebellion, or that every record needs to be part of a competition. Whilst I'd normally abhor such behavior, there are times when the lure is too strong, the siren song from the rocky rocks of rock-criticizmo telling you that in this case, the pay-off's great. With Adem, the thing you can't help mention is that he, Adem Ilhan, was once in Fridge, the fresh-faced English post-post-rockers whose late-'90s catalogue, in retrospect, seems somehow both better and worse than it did at the time; earnest and dorkish but not without its charms, and not as badly dated as, say, those early Mogwai records. In the years since, his former Fridge friend Kieran Hebden has gone off to find fame, and bloated ego, as Four Tet, making way-too-nice tazzzteful pastoral-elecktro tunes that've got stuck with the name "folktronica." It's a horrid neo-genre moniker, but, hey, it's not as if the music doesn't deserve it. After years of being completely quiet, Ilhan has made his solo debut, and, well, forget tronicks, tiger, b'cause he's just folk; and, so, when placing these Fridge children in direct competition with each other, it's no competition. In a year in which underground-folk folk are about to make a massive splash on the pop-cultural consciousness, Ilhan has made a most grand debut, swanning onto the scene with a collection of slow, sad, stately songs whose obvious studio smarts are dwarfed by a big bleeding folkie's heart.

Largely assembling his tunes around acoustic guitar, Ilhan knocks out rattling ramblers and solemn laments with equal aplomb, each tune topped off with a glorious throaty wail that immediately busts him out of post-rock/electro's boy's-too-scared-to-sing ghetto. But, when it comes to his words, it's obvious that Ilhan holds no hopes of passing for an earnest folkie, whose ways're out of place in this new-millennial setting. Whilst his disc works with a lot of folk-revivalist tones and meters, his lyrics don't stick to traditional topics or form. In fact, on Homesongs, Ilhan shows himself to be a master of the modern milieu, his lyrics obsessed with the search for "home" in an age in which the traditional family unit has broken down. "Everything You Need" is central to such; it's a "wandering" song whose opening sentiments — "Home is where your heart comes from/ But what d'you do when your heart's gone/ With everything you need?" — easily address the search-for-home sentiments Ilhan charts throughout the album, this search something he sees in tightly-kept social circles, in maintaining "I'll be there for you’ friendships," in holding out hopes for the future of nascent flirtations, in the domestic intimacies of lovers, in the way couples can be defined as an entity unto themselves, and in the friction that comes when such homely unity is fractured. On one of this disc's standout tracks, "Long Drive Home," Ilhan goes into the kind of relationship-tension anecdote that recalls the early-day, mid-'90s type work of Smog and Arab Strap, his tale one of accompanying a love-interest along to a social gathering. Written from one side of an opened-up schism that's come (if only for the eve) b'tween a pair, Ilhan sings, early: "I've been smiling my best smile/ I've been laughing with your friends/ Doing everything that you asked on the way/ And I don't know what I've done/ But we haven't talked for hours/ And I'm waiting for the long drive home." But, soon enough, he's no longer feeling so on-the-back-foot, stepping forth to pose the quietly profound question: "Do you believe in me enough to say so?", which he proffers in a diffident whisper that dares not take such a stated stand with any sort of defiance, for fear of the fallout, and the finality that may come with further fracturing. Whilst such words may seem somewhat small upon reading, they stand in for a familiar social scenario with such unerring clarity — their evocations of petty jealousy and the silent treatment painfully evocative — that they seem grand. Especially when married to the music, which finds a gentle acoustic-guitar progression draped in delicate glockenspiel, quiet piano-accordion, and sparse bass.

Such a fragile arrangement is typical of the way Ilhan goes about assembling his Homesongs songs, songs that show him more to be an "arranger" than a songwriter. Showing a masterful grasp of restraint and a healthy respect for silence, Ilhan manages to go less-is-more whilst playing a gaggle of instruments, showing a dexterous touch as he touches up harmonium, classical harp, dulcimer, and various kinds of hand/mallet percussion, all these assorted creams often being sweet colorings draped around his careful strums of guitar. The most golden moments on the record, though, are the ones where Adem strips all of this away, beyond even the fragile measures noted before. "There Will Always Be," the set's magical-sounding closing number, finds Ilhan's chesty croon expelled over an accordion tune, the song intermittently "lighting up" with spangling dangles of harp and vibraphone, which hope to conjure the illuminative qualities of starlight as they shimmer and glimmer with beautiful tonality. In evoking such starlight, Ilhan draws a line back to biblical storybook storytelling, transplanting folksinging hymnal traditions into the modern context, his offering of "there will always be room at my table for you" less a metaphorical pledge of spiritual allegiance to your boy Jesus, and more an open promise, one probably promised to either the community of friends or the specific lovers/ex-lovers of whom Ilhan so often sings. And this isn't the only song in which there's some modern-spin spun on caroling, with "Pillow" daintily trailing off, in its final hushed seconds, with the melody from "Jingle Bells"; something also done with great effect by Lisa Germano on her fabulous seasonal-drunkenness ballad "Messages From Sophia". Here, Ilhan isn't evoking Christ's birth, but Christmas; the twinkling tonality on this song not equating to starlight, but conjuring up sounds equivalent to snowfalls; the sparsest strums and delicate pluckings of harp like soft flakes slowly descending, each note unique unto itself and unlike any other. But, where other songs set icy lyrics against warm folk arrangements, here the cold climes are contrasted with the album's most romantic sentiments, painting a portrait of a night-on-the-town-together, a Christmas-season date that he sees with escalating romanticism as the eve progresses into the early morning. When Ilhan sings "We had a nice time/ We had such a nice time" (re-casting a line from the earlier "Cut," where he offers "We had a good time"), I'm reminded of the flirtations b'tween the paramours of the masterful Michel Gondry motion picture "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," the word "nice" a prosaic statement, awkwardly uttered, that doesn't come close to matching how either party is feeling. From such, it's not long before Ilhan stars stirring up much more poetic phrases, going from the gentle "I can't think/ Clearly/ But I saw you smile/ I am sure I saw you smile", to the pretty "Wake me/ With kisses/ Like butterflies"; the song's central search, for a pillow on which to rest one's head, about the deep driving desire for love, the notion that everything we do is a way to be loved a little more, this bleeding into the album's beautifully painted bigger picture. Ilhan finishes the song on the final note "Could it be I've found my home?", which seems almost a fitting summation of the thematic qualities he explores throughout Homesongs, an album whose quaint title turns out to be not just literal, but, once its sentiments set in, massively moving as well.


by Anthony Carew




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