James Yorkston - Moving up Country & Adem - Homesongs

Purveyors of ersatz music will always have the edge on those who make personal music, uninfluenced by fashion and rock's back catalogue. All the more reason, therefore, to trumpet artists like James Yorkston and Adem.

 

James Yorkston - Just Beyond the River

 

James Yorkston's first album, Moving Up Country, was one of the best albums of 2002. It effortlessly mixed folk and pop to create a suite of timeless songs, perhaps represented best by St. Patrick. Of course, being timeless is generally not a good idea (in the short run at least) in the music world. The only time that matters is NOW! - the irony being that NOW! generally sounds suspiciously like 1968, 1976 or 1981. Purveyors of ersatz music will always have the edge on those who make personal music, uninfluenced by fashion and rock's back catalogue. All the more reason, therefore, to trumpet artists like James Yorkston and Adem.

 

Yorkston's second album is stripped to basics. Kieran Hebden, (the album's producer), true to the folk ethos, has basically got all the boys and girls in the room, turned on the tapes, and then pissed off for a cup of tea.

 

Acoustic guitar, accordion and bass form the basis of most tracks, whilst banjos, violins and piano flesh out a few of the others. This simplicity of form, coupled with Yorkston's relatively monotonous deliver, makes the album seem a little flat on first listen – there doesn't seem to be the variety so evident on Moving Up Country. But further listens banish this initial worry.

 

Just Beyond the River starts off slowly and simply, almost apologetically, with the wistful Heron. An acoustic guitar accompanies Yorkston until the second verse, when the sound is augmented by bass and accordion. The song, capturing one of those mundane moments in time that allow the realisation of the love that's forming to slip through, sets the lyrical tone for the album. The first half in particular could be telling the arc of a love affair. Shipwreckers, an upbeat shanty driven by some frantic fiddling, has our lovers walking in the rain and through storms before returning to a (much required, one would think) peat fire.

 

Surf Song features skinny-dipping and sitting in a harbour bar and ends with the narrator heading off to the city to follow his love. This is one of the strongest songs on the album and manages to convey the process of falling in love without sounding at all contrived or hackneyed. Perhaps this is because the marriage of music and lyrics work so well. The lyrics are never too obvious and the sparse arrangements of the songs mean that there is nothing remotely sugary about them. Hermitage is downbeat, sombre and melancholy as the lovers wonder if they really do have a future together.

 

The doubts continue on Hotel before the uninspired, if honestly monikered, track Banjo #1 upsets things somewhat. A banjo and an aggressive violin soundtrack a destructive affair and it feels that with the second half we are moving towards a less personal set of songs. On We Flew Blind a couple sit in a clearing and discuss the future. It could be a hopeful song, but I doubt it – nothing good every happens in a clearing. It's usually where dead bodies are found, according to the TV news. Edward, a traditional folk song, is about murder, and features harpsichord, 2 toy xylophones (both broken) and two wine glasses. Banjo #2 continues the bleak mood before the album finishes with the excellent The Snow it Melts the Soonest. Another traditional folk song, on this one Yorkston and the Athletes almost rock out. The band lock into a groove and go for it – well, as much as you can on accordion, acoustic guitar, double bass and brushed drums. It is on this track – and on this track alone – where one can hear the evidence that the band listened to Can whilst making the album.

 

This is an excellent album – warm, honest, and a worthy successor to Moving Up Country. The production is suitably unobtrusive and you can even hear (supposedly) the chair that James was sat in creaking on one of the songs.

 

(P.S. James Yorkston may want to sound a bit like Can on tracks like the Lang Toun but he accepts that he doesn't really).

 

 

Adem - Homesongs

 

It would probably surprise a lot of people that Adem (pronounced Ardem) has gone down the folky path. After all, Fridge went under the post rock tag (oh, how we love labels!). What may surprise them even more is how warm the result is – Homesongs is warm almost to the point of soppiness. The opener, Statued, tells the man to hold his girl (they're out in the cold and the rain – maybe they're in the same storm as James Yorkston) so that neither of them will forget the moment for the rest of their lives. Musically the track is very simple, as are most on the album, and is based around acoustic guitar and auto-harp. As with Yorkston, Adem manages to sing earnestly and beautifully without sounding sentimental and cliched. A xylophone fleshes out the upbeat Ringing In My Ear whilst Gone Away is intimate and features breathy, plaintive vocals. Again Adem teeters towards the faux naïf with a line that goes 'It sunned, it rained, and it sunned again.' Overall, he just about gets away with it on this one.

 

These Are Your Friends and Everything You Need form the centrepiece of the album. The former song is almost poppy and concludes with a three minute chorus repeating the line 'Everybody needs some help sometimes.' As with Jim O'Rourke's Women of the World, although this simple phrase is repeated again and again it is never in quite the same way. Everything You Need is the closest thing on the album to single material and is one of the more muscular and fleshy tracks. Long Drive Home features xylophone and guitar; Pillow just contains an auto harp and mutates into jingle bells for the song's coda.

 

1 in a Million introduces a banjo into the mix and There Will Always Be opens with a magical glittering, shimmering shower and explains how there will always be room at Adem's table for you. These are songs so fragile and sparse that there seems to be almost nothing there. A spider's web would probably stand up to the wind better than these tracks. In fact, at times he makes James Yorkston and the Athletes sound like Motorhead. But that shouldn't mask the fact that there are some great songs here and only a true cynic would doubt the sincerity of Adem's lyrics.