Back in the olden days, many music journalists had a nice sideline penning biogs, frothy one-pagers extolling the virtues of a major label’s next big thing. The money was more than you’d earn writing a cover feature, so understandably competition was fierce.
I penned my fair share, but not many I’d care to admit to. One I will put my hand up for was for Merz, London-based Dorset boy Conrad Lambert. We had a long chat in some swish room at Sony HQ on Great Marlborough Street in the early autumn of 1999. I remember liking Conrad, he’d travelled extensively (his folks lived in Outer Mongolia at the time), and his tales all came with an insight that he could articulate clearly. I remember thinking he was too decent for the rough and tumble of a major label deal. Sure enough, while his debut album ‘Merz’ was critically acclaimed, it didn’t gain much-needed sales traction. Two singles, ‘Lovely Daughter’ and ‘Many Weathers Apart’, grazed the charts, a final EP, ‘Lotus’, didn’t even get its knees dirty.
‘Merz’ was a cracking record. Listening again now, you’d call it folktronica, but back then that wasn’t even nearly a thing. “I’m not an urban kid,” Conrad told me, “so my music’s not going to turn out like urban electronic music. I think a lot of my music is a blend of the country mixed with six lanes of traffic. My environments have kind of merged.”
His distinctive voice could move from gentle brow stroke to raw howl in a blink, like on the aforementioned ‘CC Conscious’. With its tribal rhythm and rasping synths, it’s a massive track by any measure. His lyrics were intriguing too. No cheesy rhyming couplets here. The line “Once they’ve got your name / You’re in wicked company” from ‘CC Conscious’ stuck with me. Still no idea what it’s about and I must have listened to the song countless times. I always appreciated hearing the feint ghost of Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer Love’ in ‘Asleep’ too. You know you’re in good company with a nod in that direction.
On the strength of his debut, Conrad should have been massive, but so many 90s artists at his level found themselves unceremoniously dumped when sales didn’t stack up. Many of them just vanished into the mists, taking regular jobs and getting on with their lives. Thankfully Conrad was picked up by the excellent Grönland label, releasing two quality outings, 2005’s ‘Loveheart’ and 2008’s ‘Moi Et Mon Camion’, before hooking up with Matthew Herbert and turning in 2013’s ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ (the reworking with experimental drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius is excellent and well worth tracking down) and 2015’s experimental ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ (the opener, ‘Shrug’ is a mere 12 minutes).
I was reminded of all this as he’s popped up again this month with ‘Dreams Of Sleep And Wakes Of Sound’, a collaboration with ambient new ager Laraaji and multi-instrumentalism Shahzad Ismaily.