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Jamie Lidell - Compass

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Artist: Jamie Lidell

Album: Compass

Label: Warp

Review date: May. 17, 2010

A major problem with the bulk of indie dance is the way its producers mistake their adopted genre for a candy-colored playground. Time and time again, we find ourselves faced with another obnoxious group of go-getters vomited up by the hype machine, always heralded as some kind of cultural revolutionaries for their foray into dance’s shiny textures or sub-bass pleasure centers. Yet so often they are sorely lacking in any palpable emotional depth or clear purpose. Never mind that there’s a whole world out there as devoted to body activation as indie rock is to earnest expression (or whatever); college kids can’t be expected to go for the real deal.

What’s the point of Jamie Lidell? When Multiply came out in 2005, some fuss was made about his transition from harsh noise to Jamiroquai-infused pop. It was impressive enough, but now it’s five years later and, slogging through Compass, the shock of the new has definitely worn off. If you’re going to try and assert your cool in a scene that’s perpetually on the outside looking in with regards to natural, expressive body movement, I might suggest a better starting place than Timbaland’s excruciatingly weak 2007 solo crash landing.

To wit, what irritates most about Compass is the way it assaults the listener with wave after wave of sonic winks, of moments intended to be witty or clever that instead fall flat. Busy and fussily filtered at every turn, I guess it’s ‘crazy’ sounding or something, but there’s nothing communicated in the slightest. Instead Lidell comes off like some coked-up clown at a party, talking out of his ass while you slowly back away. While not much of a Steely Dan fan myself, I get the appeal of their single-minded studio slickness, surely a touchstone for Lidell. But do we need more prissy asshole funk? Compass leaves you dizzy, but not with the glee of perfection.

One of the major selling points of dance music across all genres is its obvious usefulness. People need to dance, and there is a whole sector of the population devoted to producing music to which you can lose yourself. Jamie Lidell stands among a growing group of bands, solo projects and producers, people like YACHT, Washed Out, LCD Soundsystem and so so many more, whose music sadly has no such use. Theirs is a music which worries itself with the look of dance and the fluorescent brightness of pop while sidestepping the depth lurking beneath. Their appropriation drains the joy, the power, and most of all the fun out of its sources, leaving you only with a gaudy, ugly waste of time. Compass is surely a fine entry into this cannon; it’s even got a song called "Gypsy Blood." It’s fine, it is what it is, but it’s pretty pathetic.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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