"What is soul?" Funkadelic soulfully asked on their self-titled 1970 debut LP. It's hard to pinpoint, but discerning people usually know it when they hear it. (Funkadelic defined soul as "a joint rolled in toilet paper" and "rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps," and who are we to argue?)
It's obvious to many, though, that soul positively oozes from British singer/producer Jamie Lidell. It's astonishing in 2005 to encounter a white British bloke (or a black American, for that matter) who sings like a credible disciple of Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Al Green.
At 2004's MUTEK fest in Montreal, however, Lidell flaunted a flamboyant vocal display that sounded nothing like Nick Hornby's iPod; it purged the venue of vexed haters, but had the rest gawking in awe. A combination of improvised beatboxing, scatting, mad ululations, and on-the-fly FX-tweaking, his live performance stretched the limits of the human voice. Lidell's intricate interweaving of his multi-tracked pipes was one of the most mind-boggling things I've ever heard. Emanations seemed to multiply exponentially and ricochet around the club in a hall-of-mirrors fashion. What the hell was this? Shamanic trance gospel at a Martian rave? That'll have to do for now.
Lidell's penchant for the bizarre also surfaced in his solo debut album, Muddlin Gear (2000). As convoluted and demented as the most lysergic Squarepusher excursions, the disc baffled and annoyed many listeners unaccustomed to an artist who cares not for marketplace demands, nor for electronic music's functional conventions. That being said, "Daddy's Car" twistedly parodies Prince in horny-mofo/R&B mode and recalls Lidell's collaborations with avant-techno genius Cristian Vogel in Super_Collider. With Muddlin Gear, Lidell hatched one of the most fucked-up albums of any genre. It's IDM—Insanely Disorienting Music—of a truly rarefied sort.
Super_Collider's Head On (1999) and Raw Digits (2002) present sonic realizations of the libido in grotesquely distended states. The desire in this music is so strong it warps under the strain of its unreasonable demands. Imagine Prince at his horniest (sans falsetto) writhing with unbearable lust to chopped-and-screwed robo-R&B and you get an idea of the sex-muzik subversion occurring here. For many, it'll be too freaky to handle.
However, Lidell's 2005 solo album Multiply provides the most lubricious entry point into this artist's world. The singer strives for soul-man studliness/godliness and nails it. Some fools have been uttering Jamiroquai comparisons, but Lidell's true peers are the soul/funk/R&B deities mentioned above. Your Motown- and Stax-loving folks could nod their graying heads to Multiply, but it's clearly an advanced 21st-century production. Lidell's channeling some potent hoodoo, whether it be in vintage-soul or futuristic-scat mode. He vocalizes like a man possessed. Damn right it's soul.
Lidell plays with Four Tet and Koushik Thurs Sept 29 at Neumo's, 925 E Pike St, 709-9467, 8 pm-–2 am, $13 adv, 21+.