Album Review: Building a Beginning by Jamie Lidell
Fairly Good, Based on 9 Critics
The Guardian - 80 Based on rating 4/5
As you listen to Jamie Lidell’s hopelessly romantic new soul-pop LP, petals fall from the sky, squirrels flirt, and sparrows follow you around with a heart-strewn banner in their beaks. Lidell wrote the lyrics with his wife, and they’re full of earnest declarations of how valuable their bond is. Perhaps they’d make nauseating dinner party guests, but the songwriting is so comfortably strong and the production so toasty that you’re soon swooning along with them.
Jamie Lidell's first solo album away from Warp, Building a Beginning was released on the singer and producer's Jajulin label. It retreats from the early- to mid-'80s electro-funk moves of his self-titled previous full-length and is relatively old-school, often hewing close to gospel-tinged Southern soul. When the material is rooted in approaches and sounds of the late '60s and early '70s, it's still fresh, never verging on replication.
British-born, Nashville-based soul singer Jamie Lidell has never been afraid of experimenting with a multitude of instruments or genres; throughout his career he's leapt deftly from R&B to funk to electronica, confidently finding his footing after every stylistic departure. At this point the most unexpected thing he could do is go right back to where he started over a decade ago, and that's exactly what Lidell is doing with Building a Beginning. .
Even as he came into his own as a soul singer, Jamie Lidell never seemed ready to completely let go of his identity as a laptop experimentalist. At times over the last decade Lidell has seemed torn over the kind of artist he’s wanted to be, a prestige IDM producer or a mass-appeal blue-eyed soul act, and on recent albums those two visions have seemed increasingly irreconcilable. Rather than building a reputation as a shapeshifter in the vein of his sometime-collaborator Beck, he began to come across as just kind of erratic—especially on the misguided, Morris Day-by-way-of-Squarepusher fusion of his 2013 self-titled effort, a peanut butter-and-olive-sandwich of a record that tried to play to both of his skillsets but flattered neither.
Contemporary male R&B is mostly populated by four archetypes: the retro-chic crooner, the womanizing chart-chaser, the experimental seeker, and the minimalist savant. Leon Bridges embodies the first; The Weeknd the second. The third can be seen in avantpop shape-shifters like How to Dress Well and Autre Ne Veut, and the fourth is perhaps best encapsulated by the quiet storm moodiness that pervades Rhye’s Woman.
You are, as the saying goes, a product of your environment and accordingly, this seventh full-length from London-born, Nashville-based Jamie Lidell promised to mark a significant break with everything that went before it. Change was afoot on multiple fronts. He made a conscious decision to take his time with the record, having left Warp Records after fourteen years.
As a vocalist, Jamie Lidell has always felt of the wrong era. Wedged between the 90s neosoul resurgence and throwback retro-funk of the 2010s, Lidell’s sound was obsessed with 1960s soul records and 1980s post-disco long before its pop ubiquity, yet it still often lumped together with similar 2010s R&B crooners. 2005’s Multiply was a studied collection of the smooth tones and throaty hooks of a James Brown doppelganger, christening every Rhodes chord with a biting vocal pull.
Jamie Lidell has been moving toward the pure soul sounds of his latest album, Building A Beginning, since his first release some two decades past. The velvet-throated vocalist and songwriter carved a singular niche for himself in the abstract electronic music world with his blue-eyed soul vocals. He inserted these warm tones into synthetic sound beds that originally started out with more of an electro-glitchy sound.
Jamie Lidell 'Building A Beginning' (Jajulin Records)When it comes to inspiring creativity, changing record labels can often be the best thing ever, especially when the result is pure fire in the belly. In the case of Jamie Lidell, that album title (and spectacular title track) is also a sign of where his Nashville-based head is at post-Warp: the vibe is pure Stevie Wonder strolling with Lewis Taylor on a warm summer evening. And over the course of 14 tracks, he keeps the songwriting tight and the mood jubilant: from ‘Julian’ and ‘I Live To Make You Smile’ to the woozy ‘Find It Hard To Say’ and ‘How Did I Live Before Your Love’, he keeps things sunny side up throughout.