SEETHING JEALOUSY aside, Jamie Lidell lives a charmed life. Following an emotional bottoming out at the tail end of his travels in support of 2008's Jim, the British-via-Berlin-via-New-York singer was ready to start anew. Then Beck called.
"He had just finished a Charlotte Gainsbourg record and he called me saying, 'Hey do you want some help in the production of a new record?' and I'm going, 'Ah, brilliant! I mean, yes, let's do it, let's do it!" The pair connected in Los Angeles, working alongside an all-star cast (Nikka Costa, members of Wilco), which presumably comes with the territory when recording with Mr. Hansen in the same Hollywood studio where Thriller was made. Then Lidell, always the jetsetter, departed for Feist's ranch in the Niagara Escarpment to roll more tape with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear.
But any recording is more than the sum of its name-dropped parts, and the result of Lidell's cross-country recording adventure is the stellar Compass. Neatly bridging the gap between the digital fury of the breakthrough Multiple and the soul-drenched Jim, Compass is Lidell at his best. A former product of Berlin's electronic scene, Lidell expands on his foundation of crooned soul vocals over a smeared palette of digital beats and noise, developing songs that feature everything from quirky beatboxing (lead single "The Ring"), panty-dropping sex jams (ultimate slow jam "She Needs Me"), and introspective ballads (the downtrodden title track). His warped digital love songs are respectful odes to the sultriest days of '70s soul—never mind the fact that this stunning voice emanates from a blue-eyed Brit.
Such musical growth can be attributed to Lidell's acceptance of outside influence and his willingness to recruit musicians to help him share the live show responsibilities. Formerly Lidell was a hyperactive one-man band with a dizzying live show that consisted of spastic dancing, distorted IDM instrumental breaks, and a knee-buckling soulful voice. All those elements still remain; he just picked up some assistance along the way.
"Generally I'm in that band leader role, which actually I don't love. I don't like being the guy that tells people off. I don't like being a disciplinarian," Lidell says. "I'm not experienced in that role. I'm just trying to do what I can. And I do love it. It's weird because if I go out and do a bunch of solo shows, I'll wish I had the band. Then after about six months of band shows I'm like, 'What I wouldn't give to shed this and just go nuts as a solo thing.' I try to mix and match and do both."
While his previous efforts were unbalanced or came off as overly glossy, Compass fits nicely, offering a glimpse at Lidell's loose studio structure. His genre pileups are maddening to dissect, a recording method Lidell shares with a certain alt-rock icon. "He's very eloquent and almost intimidatingly experienced," explains Lidell of his time spent with Beck. "He likes to compel a moment, then capture spontaneity and try not to overwork it. And that was definitely the aesthetic behind this album. I just wanted to find something that was really at the heart of what I was trying to say, and not dilute it. Even though my producer was like, 'Come on, we can make this better, more perfect.' But I was like, 'Nah nah nah, please don't do that,' because it would add too much sugar to something that is pretty nice raw."