If there is a word to describe Merz’s album release schedule it would be “sporadic”. ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ is his fourth in a career which started in 1999 so it’s a far cry from My Bloody Valentine, The Blue Nile or even Scritti Politti (arguably one of kindred spirits) but one of the UK’s most distinctive voices has at least delivered great quality on each of his long players so far. For his latest album, he has enlisted a “name” producer in Matthew Herbert; famous for his electronic invention so one would think a perfect foil for Conrad Lambert’s adventurous style. Indeed, to set expectations, even the press release promises a “wild and ragged record with a unique kind of psychedelia”.
‘Arrows’ is a gentle, lilting number as Lambert eases us into his worldview. It comes across as epic folk music with that wonderful voice as strident and reassuring as it always were. Slowly new layers of instruments emerge but the simple, core melody comes shining through. Yet in a sign of what is to come next, an odd instrumental passages called ‘Lauterbrunnen’ precedes the rawness and rock inclinations of ‘Judge’; completing a very different and somewhat incoherent beginning to the record. That feeling can only be exacerbated by ‘Eudaimonia’; a bizarre of concoction of squiggly electronica and Lambert’s spoken word interjections, partially redeemed by a half-decent chorus.
Towards the centre of the record more focus is apparent. ‘Toy’ is brilliant as it cleverly applies disco beats to insistently glum post-punk rhythms. Likewise, the infectious ‘Credo’ finds the right balance between experiment and tunefulness whilst ‘Our Airman Lost’ delivers thunderous drumming and Lambert in his most urgent and yearning form. Then the album ends as it begins with a variation on the ‘Arrows’ melody but in much dreamier surroundings.
‘No Compass Will Find Home’ is a rather uneven album which is maybe what we should expect from an artist who isn’t one for compromising; releasing records when he chooses and not conforming to delivering a seamless set of songs. Yet though it may be somewhat short of perfection, the end result encompasses frequent moments of brilliance, curious about turns and one of the most unique records you will hear this year.
Herbert, Scritti Politti