Merz - Moi Et Mon Camion
Given the sheer number of folk-influenced male solo artists seeking fortune, it never ceases to surprise (nor, frankly, be a relief for the humble CD Times reviewer) when one actually stands out from the crowd. Conrad Lambert aka Merz, now on his third album with Moi et Mon Camion, is such a man. Thankfully, no French skills are required to listen. The title means "Me and My Truck" - thanks, Google Translate - and is nicked from a West Country removal firm.
Moi et Mon Camion has a definite folk vibe and comes wrapped in intricate (not intrusive) production. Most notably, Orbital's Paul Hartnoll worked on a couple of tracks; yet his footprint remains light. One of these, Malcolm, is arguably the standout, beginning with a gentle Northern brass blanket under Merz's affecting croak, before mutating into the audio equivalent of a walk through an enchanted forest. It has a cinematic quality similar to the opening slew of tracks from Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs. Other tracks are touched by the genuinely bizarre backing vocals of "the Blue Man of Bath". On No Bells Left To Chime his carefully employed worn-out tones add to the woozy, magical atmosphere rather than work against it; lying in the gutter, perhaps, but looking at the stars.
Like Mercury Rev - or Norway's Magnet - Merz can pull off conventionally structured, and rockier, guitar songs in addition to trickier material. Both Presume Too Much and Lucky Adam possess big choruses. The album also has its hippy moments, Merz occasionally coming close to being an English Devendra Banhart. Moi et Mon Camion (The Eviction Song) has sun-dappled guitar and lyrics about being on the road, while the serene Silver Moon Ladders sets the scene nicely with "When all the chip shops have closed/ when all the drunks have gone home" before going on to describe taking a boat out to sea to look at the moon's reflection in the water.
If (like me) this is your first encounter with Merz, you might be amazed that you haven't heard him before. Moi et Mon Camion requires close attention, rarely shouting loud enough to make him a mainstream proposition. But why complain when it's often akin to being whispered a beautiful secret?