Merz - No Compass Will Find Home (Julian Sartorius Drum & Vocal Renditions) [VINYL]

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2013-11-25

Wakefield-raised folktronica singer-songwriter Conrad Lambert has been a presence on the international music scene for a while, yet his last album, No Compass Will Find Home, met with a muted response, despite some high praise in the broadsheets. Perhaps that explains its radical reinvention here, stripped of all but Julian Sartorius’ drums and percussion and Lambert’s plaintive vocals.

There’s no denying the result is heavy going, although it is sometimes rewarding and definitely interesting. When Lambert sings on the title track “I dance to the beat of a different drum”, you can tell he really means it this time, and the clicking, echoing, ultra-dense rumble which follows him is certainly unique, its closest cousin being the similarly rhythm-heavy experiments of Bjork.

Elsewhere, the African rhythms which underpin ‘Judge’ create an air of complexity, uncertainty and menace suitable to the lyrics. Generally, the beats here are not really for dancing, unless it’s a spooky, ritual voodoo dance. Tracks such as ‘Goodbye My Chimera’ are deliberately disjointed, ungroovy, frustrated. Many songs recall These New Puritans’ Hidden and Public Image Limited’s Flowers of Romance, and like those albums, born of a desire to avoid covering old artistic ground, there’s an obstinateness in the music here, a tightness which is grating after a while.

Which isn’t to say a lot of the music isn’t also beautiful and fascinating. The rhythms and patterns conjured by 32 year-old Sartorius on tracks such as ‘Lauterbrunnen Miniature 2’ and ‘Toy’ (the one moment some funk slips into proceedings) are endlessly inventive and surprising. But you appreciate it rather than feel it. The major problem, in fact, is not the percussion but the other element remaining in these songs: Lambert’s voice is just a little too earnest, so pent-up it feels as if he’s working against the rhythm, trying to make you sit still and listen when you want to flow with the music.

Overall, this re-edit works as a showcase for a major talent. Perhaps as intended, that talent isn’t Merz. 

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