Jamie Lidell - Compass

Chris Tapley 16/05/2010

Rating: 4/5

Jamie Lidell is a man who seems to revel in being a little difficult to define. From his recent position as the soul maestro in the midst of the electronic sea that is the Warp roster, to his often tongue in cheek interviews and his constantly evolving style. Indeed he has even referred to himself as 'a walking talking question mark'. A former Berlin resident, Lidell's earlier work as Super-Collider (with Cristian Vogel) and debut album Muddlin Gear reflected this, with one foot placed firmly within the city's techno tradition. Since re-locating to Manhattan though he has gradually moved away from that, 2005's Multiply retained some of the electronic flourishes whilst incorporating a much more soul influenced style. His last album, Jim, was essentially a straight up soul record, to the extent where it might even have been some lost Motown archive. Where next though?

Compass is a glorious mesh of every aspect of Lidell's musical personality, incorporating his experimental vocal loops, soulful vocals, free-form instrumentation and use of glitchy electronics. Overall though there is an undefinable style which veers between idm, soul and folk and everywhere in between without ever sacrificing fluidity, something surely helped by the presence of Beck on production duties. Lead single The Ring is a perfect example, built around a bass-line fashioned from heavily processed vocal loops, group hand claps and explosive brass all complemented by Lidell's howling vocals. It's a joyously bombastic piece of pop music which fizzes with imagination. It's sense of barely controlled chaos extends across much of the album, a hallmark of his live shows it has always been something which was conspicuous in its relative absence from recordings. This has been rectified in many of the tracks here though, you only need to hear the abrasive noisy coda on You Are Waking to get an idea of just how raw some of the album feels. Similarly whilst the quixotic orchestration on the title track is perhaps his most mature sounding work to date, it playfully dips in and out of swathes of distortion. Yet these things sit perfectly amongst the much more polished sound that was evident on his last album.

This is the real success here, given the myriad styles on display. From the bursts of saxophone on the brooding Coma Chameleon or the tender static transmission of the closing track. The rumbling oceanic epic Big Drift, the filthy electro-pop of I Wanna Be Your Telephone or the crooning blues of She Needs Me. There should be something which satisfies fans of all incarnations here, but it is still an incredibly coherent whole. As with previous albums Compass also contains contributions from various musicians of note, but even collaborations with Feist, Gonzales, Nikka Costa or members of both Grizzly Bear and Wilco can't prise the limelight from Lidell himself.

This album undoubtedly has many layers to reveal themselves with repeated listens, but at 14 tracks it does initially feel a little too long. This though is a minor flaw because whilst Lidell has delivered moments of brilliance in all his previous styles, as a representation of the man as an artist Compass is undoubtedly his most complete piece of work. Particularly after Jim too, it is a rather brave album to make but yet again he has pulled off the unexpected with consummate ease and emphatic style.

Release date: 17/05/2010