Mauled by the music industry in the 90s, Conrad Lambert serves up impressive sixth album
For a while back there, Merz were the next big thing. The “back there” was 1999 and Merz’s eponymous debut album was partying like it. Awash with major label big bucks, Conrad Lambert was heralded as an unique talent, reviews for ‘Merz’ glowed and then, well, nothing.
‘Merz’ was a pretty astonishing record for the time. Conrad’s voice was wild, the throaty yelp of a wild cat, the songs straddled rock, dance, folk, soul, electro (see ‘CC Concious’ if you need a sample). But no one was exactly killed in the rush and, as was traditional in such circumstances, next big things that weren’t got flushed down the tubes chop chop.
Rather pleasingly, Conrad bounced back up on the excellent Grönland label in 2005 with ‘Loveheart’, a gentle, affecting record that sounded as battered and bruised as he probably was from the whole experience. Essentially a folk album (as was the 2008 follow-up wanderlust outing ‘Moi Et Mon Camion’) he was about as far out of the orbit of ‘Merz’ as it was possible to get. And then in 2013 he released ‘No Compass Will Find Home’, again acoustically driven, but later that year he hooked up experimental drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius to record the album again, this time as purely drum and vocal renditions. It’s an extraordinary piece of work by any standard.
He’s an interesting chap is Conrad. Raised in Dorset, his folks lived in Outer Mongolia when ‘Merz’ was released and these days he calls Bern in the Swiss Alps home.
“I’m not an urban kid so my music’s not going to turn out like urban electronic music does,” he explained when I met him for a chat around his debut release. “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.”
Which is fascinating when you hear ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’, album number six, which finds Matthew Herbert and Maas’ Ewan Pearson at the controls. Interesting that he talked about his environments merging all that time ago, because that’s precisely how ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ sounds.
It starts with the experimental 12-minute plus ‘Shrug’. Almost pastoral, it creaks and whispers, melody leaks out, repetitive refrains come and go. More song-writerly cuts follow, the gentle pop of ‘Oblivion’, the tiptoeing ‘Absence’, before we hit a step change for the closing trio. ‘Serene’ sees the set fair burst to life, a rolling bassline, the bright tinkle of a beat, while ‘Ten Gorgeous Blocks’ is a squelching, hectic headspinner that melts down into a splendidly noisy sequenced romp. It’s followed by the closing electronic swell and plinky plonks of ‘Mercy’, a track that slowly turns to just a warm strumming guitar and Conrad’s distinctive warble, before it ends, just stops almost without you noticing. And there you are, sat in the silence for a while like it’s part of the record.
And here’s the thing. If you flip the tracklisting and listen from the last track to the first, it sounds like an entirely different musical journey. Which is pretty clever stuff. But then this is Merz. While he won’t be setting the world alight, we’re glad to have him around and we’ll always be happy to warm our hands on his bright sparks.