Under Review: Jamie Lidell – Compass

Of all the forms of American music, it seems that soul music is stretched to its limits the least often.  Where jazz is fused with other genres and of course rock and roll has been shifted and changed over generations, but a certain puritanical reverence has been exhibited regarding the treatment of soul and R&B.  I certainly don’t mean to question the artistic genius of Motown and Chess artists, but I think that soul music’s time to come back in strange and unusual ways has come.  Leave it to Jamie Lidell, a Brit, to take soul music to exciting new levels.  On his previous two albums, Lidell explored the ground between soul and electronica.  2005’s Multiply and 2008’s Jim tracked Lidell’s drift more towards dancey music, but his new album, Compass, finds him trying out a little more experimental style.  Jamie’s emphatic vocal is still the strongest connection to the soul heritage, but the music and instrumentation on Compass owes more debt to the modern indie scene than The Funk Brothers.  Churning drum sequences and atonal keyboards underpin opener “Completely Exposed,” and “Enough Is Enough” features some flute work from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor.  Other guests include Leslie Feist and Beck, who co-wrote and produced a number of the songs.  Beck’s tumbledown funk seems to be a bit of an influence on Lidell, and “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” and “Coma Chameleon” wouldn’t sound so out of place on The Information.  There are still some more straight-ahead soul moments on Compass, like “She Needs Me” and “I Can Love Again,” which shifts between a few different movements in its short running time.  Though those throwbacks are pleasant, it’s the weirder, darker songs that define Compass from Lidell’s other albums.  “The Ring” is a freaky, skuzzy stomp, and the title track is a string-swept fractured mess.  In all, Compass is a strange effort from an increasingly strange musician.  Compared to the pristine production of Multiply and Jim, Compass is a murky, spacey album that is more surprising than refreshing.  Though mainstream soul singers may seek to capture virtuosic perfection, Jamie Lidell is trying to bring back the fun and free spiritedness, and he’s doing a damn fine job at it.

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~ by E. on May 19, 2010.

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