On a personal note, my first ever album review for Contact Music was Merz - aka Conrad Lambert - 2008 in the guise of his release Moi Et Mon Camion. It's fair to say that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then for both parties, but for Lambert the more things have changed, the more things have stayed the same.
No Compass Will Find Home is his first album since then, a period during which the nomadic lifestyle he was celebrating/commiserating last time out has continued, the latest stop being Bern in Switzerland. It seems reasonable to suggest that as such the title can be viewed as something of a metaphor for Lambert's life and, despite the mild ripple of success which Merz has managed to stir up in his career to date, it seems that the land of easy choices still remains the only foreign territory he's unwilling to venture to.
The most direct way to understand this is in his chosen musical backdrop. On Moi... Lambert was busy exploring the possibilities of electronic and folk styles blended together at a period in before it became an artistic cul-de-sac. It would've been far more commercially expedient from there to follow the banjo dollar after seeing it make kings of the Mumfords, but instead here he's cast off the more bucolic elements of what went in the past - the exception being opening track Arrows - and headed off for a much more panoramic, yet still highly personal horizon.
Recording in an atelier (It's a posh name for an art studio - we had to look it up) purportedly once used by Albert Einstein, the change of scenery plays a significant part in shaping the likes of Lauterbrunnen, a brief fuzz of krautrock shaped darkness which, believe it or not, is about a long forgotten visit to the area paid by Lord Byron. The almost epic titular closer also seems to bear the hallmarks of a different environment; the singer though admits his sense of dislocation, admitting "I don't see anything that I really want" whilst a nervy, staccato backdrop counters the have-guitar-will-travel payoff line, "You don't need a house to feel protected".
It's also a work shaped by near personal tragedy, as both Our Airman Lost and The Hunting Owl are products of a serious and potentially fatal illness suffered by Lambert's brother-in-law. They contrast, the latter a much more plaintive exercise, but both are still far from maudlin. The highlights though are cut from a much more uplifting cloth; Judge has all the nicotine fingered sixties immediacy of, for example, The Coral, doubtless a throwback to old passport stamps and vinyl collections, whilst Credo is a far more prosaic exploration, drawing on elements of post rock and electronica to persuade even the most fervent non-believer.
Clearly much has changed for Conrad Lambert in the last five years; much more I have to say in his life than mine. No Compass Will Find Home is a record that mirrors some of that uncertainty, attempting to come out fighting against the anxiety and, when it inevitably falls short, it does so with dignified grace. Perhaps the next city will be the one in which he creates his masterpiece. Or maybe the one after that. One day you feel sure that magnum opus will eventually come.
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