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CD Review: Jamie Lidell / Compass

May 20, 2010 by  
Filed under CD Reviews, Daily Music News

Jamie Lidell
Compass
Warp Records

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


Reviewed by:  Dorise Gruber

Compass Track Listing
1. Completely Exposed
2. Your Sweet Boom
3. She Needs Me
4. I Wanna Be Your Telephone
5. Enough’s Enough
6. The Ring

ComTrack Listing:
pass Track Listing

Track Listing:
1. Completely Exposed
2. Your Sweet Boom
3. She Needs Me
4. I Wanna Be Your Telephone
5. Enough’s Enough
6. The Ring
7. You Are Waking
8. I Can Love Again
9. It’s a Kiss
10. Compass
11. Gypsy Blood
12. Coma Chameleon
13. Big Drift
14. You See My Light

If Stevie Wonder and André 3000 were to have a skinny, white, slightly-rugged British hipster Lovechild, Jamie Lidell would be the result.   He may not look like he’s got it in him, but Jamie Lidell will Soul your face off.  That man can’t just sing, he can SANG.  Listening to his most recent album, Compass, which dropped earlier this month, besides not being able to help compulsively grooving in your chair, you will be awed at how Lidell has essentially created his own genre: Electro-funk.

Ok, so maybe “electro-funk” doesn’t sound so cool, but trust me, it is.  With production help from Record Club founder and musical revolutionary pal Beck Hansen and inspired indie artist Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear), vocal aids from Nikka Costa, Leslie Feist, and Pat Sansone (Wilco), and drum features from one of the most recorded drummers of all time James Gadson, it’s hard to go wrong.  Lidell deftly navigates his listeners to different extremes of his styles and his vocal range, and has no qualms with the fact that his album taps into different genres.  Whether the beat is hard-hitting, closer to 90s R&B, or even borders on Gospel, there is nothing about this album that isn’t imbued with soul, funk, and originality.  It’s not surprising that Beck helped produce Lidell’s album, because not only does the sound itself have a slight Beck flavor, but more importantly, when you listen to Lidell’s album it’s hard to not get excited about it in the same way that you got excited about early Beck albums: it changes the way that we listen to music, it creates its own genre, and it will influence the way music is made in the future.

In that way, more than being about each individual song, Lidell’s most recent output may have hits and misses, but so it goes with exploring uncharted territory.  Some of the most successful songs on the album are the ones like “Completely Exposed,” “Your Sweet Boom,” “The Ring,” and my personal favorite “Coma Chameleon.”  Some of these introduce earthy sound effects, including beatboxing, deep bass lines, and full horn sections.  What makes these the most successful tracks is how they nimbly balance strong, soulful vocals, with snappy, foot-stomping beats.  They take classic funk to a new, highly engineered level –the production galvanizes Lidell’s sound, further invigorating his already compelling tones.

It’s not that other songs on the album, like “She Needs Me,” “I Can Love Again,” “It’s a Kiss,” “Big Drift,” and “You See My Light” aren’t good, but they aren’t as catchy, and when you’ve been so floored by the other unconventional songs on the album and how forward-thinking it all is, it’s hard to hold those smoother, more classic beats in the same regard.  Where these songs truly shine, however, is in their honesty and rawness, and Lidell still manages to douse these songs with his impassioned flair.

Then there are the songs that don’t really fit in, but are still assets to the album.  Songs like “Enough is Enough” which make you feel like you’re at a beach party hosted by the Jackson 5.  Or songs like “You Are Waiting” which bring more of a rock feel, and is the sort of song you could play for athletes right before you throw them into a game.  “Gypsy Blood” also has a rock edge, but isn’t quite as churning as “You Are Waiting.”  “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” is perhaps the most bizarre in the bunch, as it sounds like a funky robot was invited to sing on Soul Train.  “Compass,” the album’s title track, is one of the more surprising songs on the album, because it starts out sounding like it’s going to be a little slow with a slight Eastern feel, until it introduces a complicated tribal beat that makes the song more textured, adventurous, and lively.

Compass is an aptly named album, as Lidell takes us traversing the different directions of his musical capabilities, showing us the poles of his personality, and at each destination introducing us to new styles, brilliant musical natives, and a chance to rediscover soul in depth at its roots.

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For additional Jamie Lidell goodies, check out the video for The Ring, his video introduction to his new album Compass, and the video for Skip Spence’s “Books of Moses,” recorded with James Gadson from Record Club.

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