Adem Ilhan is clearly someone who spends a lot of his time thinking. But if he didn’t, we would never get to hear his wonderful acoustic based musings, the latest batch of which he has been kind enough to share with us on Love And Other Planets.
His second solo offering, the follow-up to 2004’s gorgeous Homesongs is a concept album about space. A bold venture indeed and an all together more ambitious album than the science teacher lookalike’s debut without losing the basic folk underlay of what he does best.
Ilhan made his name in post-rock band Fridge, alongside a certain Kieran Hebden (better known these days as Four Tet) and with this latest offering he has equalled anything his more illustrious band mate has achieved to date. First song, Warning Call, sets the tone as the question of whether us Earthlings would do anything differently if we were told by another planetary race that we were destroying the only place we will ever live.
A pretty deep way to open an album I’m sure you’ll agree but make no mistake, this is not a negative release. Proving the point, Something’s Going To Come celebrates the fact that “we’ve got love” with a very uplifting melody that is also notable for the inclusion of drums, something absent from Homesongs.
These Lights Are Meaningful, meanwhile, is the biggest candidate for a single on the record with a narrative acclaiming the fact that there is “something beyond ourselves” up above in the sky. In fact, Adem must really have a stiff neck as he spends most of his time on the album looking upwards.
Despite the general theme of space a lot of the lyrics are metaphorical, with love the real underlying subject matter. Take Launch Yourself, a song about being abandoned on a distant planet by your co-pilot, while the heavenly title track finds Adem taking his girlfriend into the garden to gaze up, telling her “on a clear night if you look close enough you can just make out love and other planets”. This song, a very slow track with just an accordion accompanying the singer’s heartfelt vocal, finds Adem at his very best.
Spirals is another song with romance and astrology interweaved as a pattern drawn on his hand by Adem’s partner reminds him of the galaxy in a very loved-up reverie. The London-based singer-songwriter does the whole dreamy thing like second nature and the serene Sea Of Tranquility, with the wonderful line “I’m seasick of solid ground”, is another gem.
Perhaps the album’s biggest triumph however is its experimentation and originality. I do not say this lightly, but X Is For Kisses is one of the cleverest songs I have ever heard. While a train type soundscape is created by backing vocals harmonising the letters of the alphabet in order Adem sings a line starting in each letter in turn, the one exception being x, which he gets away with because of the title.
Elsewhere, the very melodic Launch Yourself and the modernistic You And The Moon use hand claps to create a beat and tempo, on the latter combining this with the use of computers to good effect. Adem is not simply a man and his guitar, this is inventive folk by an artist striving to push back the boundaries.
The effect created by the use of bells and crackly noises alongside hushed vocals on Last Transmission From The Lost Mission provides another example of this. It is the feeling that these are a dying man’s last words and it is hauntingly conveyed. Whilst retaining the heartfelt beauty of his debut album, it is the subjects tackled on Love And Other Planets and the experimentation with which this is done that really shows Adem is reaching for the stars.