In the vacuum of space, you can’t hear the sound of a heart breaking. But if you listen closely to Love and Other Planets, the sophomore release from London singer-songwriter Adem Ilhan, you might just hear something more affecting altogether. A delicate examination of human relationships set against a backdrop of the universe and all its expansive phenomena, it’s a concept album unlike any other. Recorded entirely in his London home, Love and Other Planets maintains the warmth of previous release Homesongs, but reaches beyond the pastoral beauty of his debut for the stars above.
Don’t let the singer-songwriter moniker dissuade you, though, Ilhan is more than a man with an acoustic guitar and an eight-track recorder. Yes, there is acoustic guitar, but also much more: harmonium, handclaps, layered vocal harmonies, xylophone, violin, and other various types of homemade percussion. And with sharp production to match the instrumental variety, you won’t hear those comforting crackles and buzzing you may have come to expect from the genre. What Adem has assembled with Love and Other Planets is as ambitious as the thematic veins that run through its 12 tracks and deliver its life-blood.
Earnest with every pained octave and sweetly sung harmony, Adem ponders our inherently lonely existence in the universe, ever searching for the only answer that seems to make any sense. Move over Major Tom, because there’s a new explorer scouring the cosmos for that elusive treasure we call `love,’ and he may be closer to finding it than he could ever expect.
Opener “Warning Call” is just that, a desperate plea to humanity to change its ways before it’s too late. Chilling harmonies soar above picked guitar notes and xylophone flourishes as Ilhan asks: “If we received a warning call/ would we change at all/ do you think we’d learn?” It’s a question posed whose arc stretches the width and breadth of the album’s stellar journey, only to be answered in the final reassuring verse of the book-ending “Human Beings Gather ‘Round.” “Launch Yourself” lifts off with the playful rhythmic pairing of handclaps and marimba and the lover’s lament: “You left me stranded/ while you broke through to other worlds.” A warmly droning harmonium exudes hope into the title track while Adem’s falsetto channels the folk undertones of Sufjan Stevens at his Seven Swans best.
“Crashlander” follows the plight of a bruised lover who picks herself out of the wreckage to start over on a new world. The melody swoons with those same gorgeous harmonies and resembles peak-Coldplay track “Trouble.” Handclaps and a struck wooden block perform the percussive duties on “You and Moon” as Adem accuses the stars of falsehood: “Light is a liar/ telling old truths.” And later in “These Lights Are Meaningful,” he contrasts it with “these lights are meaningful/ they tell what we forgot/ they’re not just pretty sparks.”
In the aforementioned closer “Human Beings Gather `Round,” the harmonium returns with subtle xylophone accompaniment to offer hope for those still searching the heavens above for answers: “Everybody please take heart/ the universe won’t let us down/ a miracle will happen soon.” It’s a powerful yet simple conclusion to an album that traverses the galaxy for hope, and upon finding it, ends in optimism. I can honestly say that it took me a few listens, but I absolutely fell in love with this album as its nuance and sheer beauty took hold of my heart. Love and Other Planets is a reminder that in troubled times like ours, for all our searching in the sky above, maybe (to quote a fellow Brittan) “all you need is love,” and it’s right here on earth.