Saturday, 16 February 2013

Jamie Lidell - Jamie Lidell


I'm not one to blow either mine or anyone else's trumpet, but Warp Records have good reason to be in many a music follower's good book and find themselves listed on a person's social network watch-list. While I remain faithfully enticed by those labels who have built a reputation for promoting specific fields of music, both new and old - Ninja Tune, Kranky & Tri-Angle are a few I'm at default for bringing to the forefront - Warp have gone about the, what should be, impossible route of promoting both the old guard and the newcomers; the established field of sound as well as those you may not associate with an electronica-focused UK label. And while there have been a few blips and unsuccessful investments, for the majority of cases, Grizzly Bear, Battles, Darkstar; the reaction from critics and fans alike has been positive. Jamie Lidell is but another addition to that roster of non-electronica acts that despite its electronic roots, carelessly flourishes and blooms in a pop-focused soul-enticing array of song-writing and melodies that aren't purely 100% synthesizers and experimentation, but without question make use of them in as best a way as possible. What makes Lidell stands out however, is his immaculate leniance on soul and a new-age revival of a decade-old sound in an age getting increasingly more dependent on electronics and electrically-powered mechanics. Lidell's self-titled fifth album, sees him return to the bombastic meshing of electronics, as opposed to the soulfully low-key work of his previous album Compass, and for a guy so intent on letting his emotions pouring out his vocals do all the talking, the results are in no way for the faint of heart.

The album sees Lidell pick-pocketting from Prince's keep in a swing of funk and rhythm as is the case with the opener I'm Selfish, disco-laiden shots of colour and light laying across the flow of grooving bass lines and ascending synth loops. But Lidell's voice feels more content and less extruded than perhaps we're used to. But it's the steadiness of percussion and how electronics bubble and wiggle between one another that's the stand-out element here. And given how retro and nostalgic the track dresses itself up as, it plays really well to that closed-off dancefloor atmosphere the song creates. But despite how glamorous and prideful the tones might suggest here, the song's lyrics - indeed, identified by the track's title - there's a clear honesty and realism to Lidell's line of thinking, and tied in with this sound, it works a lot better than simply alluding to a state of optimism. Likewise, the following track Big Love sees Lidell take on a much more centralized and direct stance when directing his voice across the percussive impact of synthesizers and flashing beats of bass. But taking that away, the music itself still reaches for some rich and tender sense of soul and emotion like some religiously collected joining of people, synths glazing across the more deep and hard-hitting beats. So even when Lidell aligns himself up to be the centre-piece - the ring-master of this colorful showcase - his music doesn't weaken or falter because of it.

This is showcased no better than on album highlight What A Shame, which I remain as obsessively attracted to as much now than I had done on first listen. From the very first strangling loop of Lidell's synthetically-coiling voice, the track is a bold and punchy execution of glossy-coloured rhythmically-punchy sounds, all tied together by Lidell's own nasally, puncturing cries. And the way the music binds and mixes together into his title cries conjures a definite soulful desperation from the man himself. When the music gives enough reason and validity for this expression of tone, then Lidell's decision-making is justifiable in its bright, eccentric projection, but later as the album moves on, you do get the feeling that perhaps Lidell isn't quite willing to play around with his vocals as much as he is his music. The track Do Yourself A Faver is one of the album's more pop-friendly, clean-shaven deliverances of groovy synthesizer play-about and hand-clapping drumbeats. But away from that, Lidell's own contribution feels slightly lacking in its ambition. His voice does indeed feel intricately placed and well-sought amid the track's mix, but its execution is rather deflated and less excitable than other tracks, by contrast, garner to great extents. The volatile danger of mixing pop with soul comes into play the greatest on follower You Naked, ground-up synths and puddled sounds all bound by this lesser bold, but still richly emotive, display in Lidell's vocal front. And where the music doesn't necessarily come off as fully engaging or even willing to play to contemporary pop's indulgent excessiveness, Lidell feels the more satisfied and joyous of this charismatic swagger.

Lidell's own persona on this album is an interesting one, because as much as he plays to soul's deeply-engaging connectivity with its listener, it feels as if he's more than willing to let the flow and the groove take his place in the driving seat. Even if that means sacrificing emotion for repetition; vocals riding shotgun to instrumentation, what it does however is open Lidell himself up to discovering more about himself and about his model as a human being, rather than just some disco-loving colorfully-glazed vocalist swinging to and fro about his music. With a track like Blaming Something, Lidell comes off a little more aware of his own position, and while it does pave some interesting paths for how his vocals work around a new found sense of realization, the music is a little more withdrawn and, from my perspective, slightly hesitant in being too cliched. Conceptually, it's an intriguing change of heart, but as far as the actual result goes, the track remains a little withered and dry of any real energy or muster. It's when Lidell returns, perhaps retreats, into that familiar care-free exploratory of emotion as is the case with You Know My Name do we get an idea of where his real strength as a vocalist lies. Unfortunately, by this point, given how excessive and forward the marching of beats and squashed trampling of bass comes off as, Lidell's ideas on playing to soul and groove begin to go a little thin. Worse, it feels rather desperate in places. Though the off-shoot of pitched electronics and squelching instrumentals do radiate a kind of longing muster for rhythm, as an overall piece, the track doesn't give off any worthwhile vibes that his previous tracks do so well at accomplishing.

His better call of judgement when exploring the person behind the persona is on tracks like Don't You Love Me, which here present Lidell more as the victim rather than the ring-master of the show. Despite the fairly vibrant momentum in the song's accompanying groove, Lidell himself uses his soulful depth to its greatest possible extent. Its the honest reach to desperation and a need for answers that, in result, comes across really nicely in his lyricism. But away from the words and the cries for a response, Lidell's delving into slow 2-step and late-night urban demographics gives him a well-sought, well-discovered alternative to the rich, emotionally-fueled spectrum of color he's intentionally made himself out to be. Rather fitting then that the album closer In Your Mind opens up with a sweeping tensity of tidal synths and noisy heat-strokes of electronics, as if the two personalities of previous have caught one another's eyes, and are locking horns. But what follows is Lidell ending the record in a similarly care-free honesty with the music, but treating the sounds with more of an intense emphasis in directness and integrity. The bungee-jumping vibrancy of liquid synths and sweeping percussion have a lot more strength and effectiveness against Lidell's passage of vocals that, in one part, come across slightly bare and vulnerable, but in others are as strong and as bold as the very music that surrounds it. And for a track showing both sides to Lidell's vocal persona, it shows little hesitance to dive head-first into the flow of things.

What I find frustrating then about Jamie Lidell's self-titled is that despite the brief successes the guy has when approaching a more honest and stripped-back variance to his sound, the results often show Lidell as an artist that perhaps has spent too long reliant on one or two particular fields, and has for whatever reason, slammed the door in the face of everything else. It ends up, unfortunately, leaving his stronger areas looking more like hesitant retreats, and as unfair as that may be, I do come away in parts questioning whether or not Lidell is willing to try and test himself further, as opposed to simply laying safe in the same ground, despite how well and fulfilling he executes it. Nevertheless, the great benefit with this album is that when you do enter such a retreat, its rather farfetched cliche-esque utterances of funk and soul ideology come across in a way that actually makes them a lot more credible and worthy of time, than you'd initially imagine. It's through Lidell's own justifiable confidence and want for something grand and bombastic, that gives his electronic palette a new-found sense of life and liveliness. And on a whole host of songs on this record, Lidell's catalytic engagement and drive leave the listener only wanting more. It's a demand that isn't entirely met to full capacity with the latter offerings, but its initial appeal is, without question, worthy of multiple listens.
~Jordan

7.2

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