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Adem: Comforting 'Tears' for Yo La Tengo

The wonderful English singer-songwriter Adem — a.k.a. Adem Ilhan — specializes in wearily warm ballads that take grand concepts (home, outer space) and make them seem as warm and internal as blood. His first two albums, Homesongs and Love and Other Planets, combine inventive instrumentation and craggy sweetness in a way that sounds both cool and endlessly inviting.

By definition, Adem's third album (Takes) is less ambitious: It's a collection of mostly obscure covers, each originally released between 1991 and 2001, when Adem was finding his voice musically. The selections provide a triptych of his influences, from the whiz-bang arrangements of Aphex Twin and Bjork to the naked emotion of Low and PJ Harvey. Not surprisingly, his taste is exquisite: Of all the Yo La Tengo songs at his disposal, he picked the wonderful "Tears Are in Your Eyes," a track which suits his immense empathy perfectly.

Adem doesn't so much top the original as give it a companion. Where Georgia Hubley's vocal gave Yo La Tengo's version the heavy-lidded feel of shared sorrow — with a reassuring hint of optimism — Adem opts for a tone of comparative comfort. All in all, it's a faithful tribute, but this "Tears Are in Your Eyes" also functions as a sort of Cliffs Notes to what Adem is all about: a figurative glass of warm milk for a world of nervous stomachs.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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