Most artists release an album of cover versions when their creative well is running dry or when they need to fulfill a contractual obligation with their label. It’s difficult to imagine either of these situations applying to Londoner Adem Ilhan, whose third album is a tribute to the songs that shaped his own musical endeavors, both in post-rockers Fridge and in his folky solo project.
Takes is a sparse affair that leans heavily on acoustic guitars and Adem’s gentle vocals. A version of Bedhead’s “Bedside Table” opens the album, with Adem picking out a gentle acoustic pattern on his guitar and laying down a pleasant campfire vocal. A heavily distorted guitar occasionally looms in the background, but is turned way down in the mix. The resulting song is a likeable number that doesn’t really go anywhere but perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The version of PJ Harvey’s “Oh My Lover” is probably the biggest misfire here. Although the intention is to chip away at some of the rough edges of the song, it becomes an aimless, Starbucks-ified dirge in Adem’s hands. There’s little conviction in his delivery, and he falls into the trap of layering the track with too much “spooky” instrumentation, from sudden swells of bombastic strings to minimal piano playing. Adem performing a dark take on a PJ Harvey song is a bit like getting Steve Martin to play Inspector Clouseau; Peter Sellers already did that, he made the part his own, and even someone who’s genuinely talented is going to look like they’re out of their depth in the role.
The album regains momentum with the version of Lisa Germano’s “Slide,” which is an airy lament that provides a much better fit for Adem’s talents. Although most of the songs here aren’t hard to imagine in an acoustic setting, it’s the Aphex Twin medley (combining “To Cure a Weakling Child” and “Boy/Girl Song”) that really gives Adem the opportunity to stretch out and show us what he’s capable of. The melody of the song works surprisingly well when thrummed out on an acoustic guitar, the glockenspiel sets a playful tone to the track, and Adem’s attempt at aping the vocals of “Boy/Girl Song” are simultaneously amusing and genuinely fitting.
It’s with the Aphex Twin song that Adem relaxes and sounds like he’s enjoying himself. Takes could have used a few more experiments of this nature, because while his versions of the Breeders’ “Invisible Man” and Yo La Tengo’s “Tears Are in Your Eyes” are tasteful enough, there’s no real sense of adventure, no real feeling that these songs needed to be covered in this way, no real attempt at making this anything other than a stopgap between records.