Jamie Lidell’s latest album, Compass, guides listeners through his various musical personas.JUDGING BY HIS MUSIC, it would seem that there’s more than one Jamie Lidell. During the course of a dynamic 10-year career, the 36-year-old Brit has made a name for himself as an electronic composer, a beat-boxing cut-and-paste collagist and an earthy soul man. On his latest album, Compass (Warp, $15), yet another version of Lidell comes into focus — and it would appear he’s all those things and more.
“I’ve battled with the idea of being such a chameleon and meddling with so many different styles and genres, if you will,” he says. “I’ve thought in the past that was a bad thing. But now I’m really embracing it. That’s where the name Compass comes from — I feel like I’m where I need to be in amongst all this musical chaos and diversity.”
For Lidell, the journey of making Compass began with his move from the U.K. to New York City in early 2009. It was around then that he received a call from his friend and former tourmate, fellow musical eclectic Beck. “He got in touch and was asking if I wanted any help with production,” Lidell recalls. “He basically got the ball rolling on the record.”
Lidell and Beck began working in the latter’s Los Angeles studio. A pair of sessions there put Lidell in contact with further collaborators, including producer Brian Le Barton, members of the Chicago-based rock band Wilco, Canadian pop songstress Feist and former Bill Withers drummer James Gadson. From there, Lidell continued work on the album in LA’s famed Ocean Way Recording studios and marshaled a further array of guests, including R&B diva Nikka Costa.
“We just worked and nailed all this stuff together, and I ended up with a big mess of material,” Lidell says. He returned to New York with a mission to “jigsaw it together into some kind of crazy collage,” enlisting the help of another friend, Chris Taylor, from Brooklyn indie-folk darlings Grizzly Bear.
The resulting album moves in manifold directions, from pastoral folk to euphoric R&B, with flashes of Lidell’s varied inspirations throughout. “It’s true I’m a pretty mixed bag,” he says. “My influences can be anything from Steve Reich to Prince to Can to Stevie Wonder to the White Stripes and whatever else might be floating around in the air at the time. But ultimately I think of myself as a bluesman. I’m not a very ornate composer, but I’ve got the heart. I like something that I can shout over and croon over. And I like all that interesting terrain in between.”
For Lidell, who first earned notice stateside for the retro R&B songs off 2005’s Multiply and 2008’s Jim — several of which turned up on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and in commercials for Target — the response to this record is something he’s keen to gauge.
“It’s funny, I always think whatever I do is going to be unlistenable for some people,” he says. “But this is a really generous album sonically and lyrically. I just had to work out where I was personally and musically and put it all down. Perhaps of all the records I’ve made, this really gives a window into my restless soul.”