Sometimes it’s all too tempting to pigeonhole the beardy and bespectacled gentlemen of alternative music. Each crafting his own brand of the thinking man’s pop song. All crooning those literary lyrics. But despite blending in inconspicuously with his contemporaries, Jamie Lidell’s sound stands out, sitting more comfortably among the likes of Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone. It’s clear from the video for “The Ring,” the single from his newest release, Compass, that Jamie has a lot of soul. Or perhaps that he has a lot of sand in his pants. Maybe both. That being said, his manic twitches and convulsions are not at all ill suited to the feel of Compass as a whole. All written and recorded in a few frantic fell swoops, Compass plays like an album that was, well... all written and recorded in a few frantic fell swoops. Coasting in on the tailwinds of his collaboration with Beck, Wilco and Feist on the Record Club’s recreation of Skip Spencer’s Oar, Lidell’s work on Compass draws from the same manic, experimental energy with many of the same players contributing. And as with most things done with manic, experimental energy, the results on the album are exciting, if inconsistent.
Far from the middle-of-the-road, polished soul of 2008’s JIM, Compass pulls hard in every direction. The title track encapsulates the spirit of the album, morphing from spacey and delicate to beat-heavy and dissonant and back again. From the weightlessness of “You See My Light” to the even, summery Jackson 5 sound of “Enough Is Enough” to the heavy junkyard funk of “Your Sweet Boom” (which might give Bret from Flight of the Conchords a run for his money for the title of The Boom King), the album runs the sonic gamut. Occasionally, Lidell’s nervous, deconstructed soul energy strikes gold on tracks like “Completely Exposed” or “Coma Chameleon” (Boy George, anyone? I’m sorry. He made that too easy). On the other hand, it occasionally misfires in 80s slow jam duds like “She Needs Me” or “It’s A Kiss." And following his musical compass in the millionth direction it points him, Lidell also finds himself in new, vulnerable vocal territory. If it’s possible to pinpoint the place where Beck’s influence as producer and collaborator is felt most, the heavy, desert dirge of “Big Drift” could make a good case, calling to mind the best of the hollow rawness and sorrow of Sea Change.
This is a fairly unrefined peek into Jamie Lidell’s artistic mind, which by all accounts sounds like a weird and chaotic but undeniably funky place—a place where one might reasonably spend a good amount of time squirming about in the sand shouting “There’s a rhythm to his madness!” And I’d have to agree with flailing beach Jamie. While it won’t be remembered as the album where it all came together, Compass certainly points Lidell's sound in what looks like a promising direction.
Recommended Tracks: “The Ring,” “Big Drift,” “Completely Exposed,” “Your Sweet Boom,” “Gypsy Blood”
-- Catherine DeGennaro