I don't know what possessed Mark Templeton to plunder Lionel Richie's songs for the four-song Ballads—a childhood obsession with “Say You, Say Me” and “Dancing On the Ceiling” perhaps, or maybe Templeton was inspired by a similar move The Field made when he used “Hello” as source material for “A Paw in My Face” (on 2007's From Here We Go Sublime). Regardless, Ballads, a limited-edition and self-released EP (100 copies), adds an unexpected twist to Templeton's ongoing story: while his recordings have liberally drawn from extra-musical sources—field recordings, found sounds, and the like—never before (to my knowledge) has his work drawn so directly from the recordings of another artist.
Of the four songs, the opening “February 23rd” features Richie most conspicuously. Amidst shuddering waves of static, one hears his voice, and specifically the “tell you time and time again” section from “Hello,” repeating hypnotically in fractured form. Other elements—melodies and chord progressions—from the song surface in bits and pieces, resulting in a dizzying four minutes that's unlike anything else in the Templeton discography. No Richie original is as identifiable during “Broken and Remade” even if, shredded into fragments, his voice can be heard bleating at the center of a cyclone. A different mood altogether is created during “Horizon,” a placid setting for acoustic guitars and electronics where he appears as an intermittent whisper. The Richie factor diminishes with each song until “Drowning in Memories,” three minutes of bass pulses, vaporous smears, static, and electric guitar, seems to dispense with his presence altogether.Don't get the wrong idea: Templeton hasn't abandoned the style of music-making documented on his Anticipate recordings. On the EP, clearly etched electric guitar lines are heard on occasion but more often than not he uses his gear to generate billowing masses of textural sound, and the twang of Templeton's guitar can be heard in the flutter that ripples across fields of turbulent shadings. But Ballads nevertheless sounds like an arresting new chapter in his development.