Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting

In Culture on May 6, 2011 at 8:33 PM

Antithesis to the get rich quick factory-line production line of puppets from Mr. Cowell’s lucrative stable, Jamie Woon’s full-length debut has certainly spent a long time in the ether. Born to a Malaysian Chinese father and Scottish Celtic folk singer mother (Mae Mckenna, for enthusiasts),  “Woonie”, as he is want to refer to himself, grew up in the leafy environs of South-West London. After school he attended the prestigious BRIT school, graduating the year before Amy Winehouse, whereafter he went to University.

This album has been bubbling ever since really, from the covers gigs in Cheltenham restaurant, to the ‘long lonesome journeys’, to sleeping on mate’s floors, to selling his own CDRs after gigs. Interest was first really piqued with his stunning acoustic version of folk classic Wayfaring Stranger (which, testament to its quality didn’t even make the cut for this album, as several other great songs didn’t too). Popularity then developed in a very Arctic Monkeys people-power kinda way. Matters accelerated after he was voted 4th in the BBC’s coveted ‘Sound of (2011)’ poll (behind, respectively, The Vaccines, tragically,James Blake, reasonably and Jessie J, wrongly, but understandably). This was due in no small part to Night Air – his stunning collaboration with Will ‘Burial’ Bevan, who also provided a remix of the song.

Fittingly, this song is the opening track of Jamie’s long-delayed (at least, to these ears) debut – Mirrorwriting. The track opens with a slightly sinister, almost-beatboxed, electro beat, before being met by a beautiful yet haunting synth refrain. In it, Jamie eulogises about his fascination with the beautiful eeriness of the night air; an atmosphere perfectly evoked by the song.  The haunting yet funky’ feel is epitomised by the image of a cricket dancing in the still, stagnant, spooky ‘night air’ of the suitably amazing video.  It was so unlike anything I’d heard before, I had to sit up and take notice…and obviously the Beeb did too.

The next three songs, StreetLady Luck & Shoulda, further demonstrate his unique brand of Electronic production fused with his silky-smooth, rich falsetto, despite which you can still believe he grew up in Wimbledon and didn’t just steal the voice from an ageing New Orleans native. Not that that’s an aspersion on the likes Amy or Adele (a complement if anything); just an observation. In Middle, Woonie effuses about his love of the middleground in a wonderfully funky little ditty, replete with the man even providing his own harmonies.

Spirits, even more so than the other songs, showcases Jamie and his team superb production skills, comprising as it does a funky drum beat fused with airy synths and his own voice providing the harmonies. Though, as with Lady Luck and reverb-heavy version of the poetic, ballad Gravity on show here, the stripped-down acoustic versions (on YouTube) are probably even better; sounding rawer and, for Gravity, with a fantastic long intro where a guitar-tapping, beat-box builds into the verse. Echoes,  by the album’s own very high standards, is a bit of low point. Jamie’s voice is lovely as ever and the lyrics interesting enough, but the chink of electro beat sounds a little too much like a menu of a Wii game and, with a perfunctory drum beat, is relatively pedestrian. For once, Jamie falls the wrong side of ‘ambient’.

In the woozy, dreamy, piano-inflected soul of Spiral, Jamie sings of his infatuation with some, obviously very lucky, young dame causing him to see ‘spirals (when) moving with you again’. If the XX thought they had the market for soundtracking the make-out sessions of uber-cool, brooding, Twenty-somethings sewn up, then, on the evidence of this track especially, they oughta think again…

TMRW  has a nice little soulful stomp too it and Secondbreath is a pleasant if fleeting short instrumental. Both, though nice, are two of slightly less remarkable points of the album.  Waterfront though is a perfect example of how keeping music simple can pay dividends. The song comprises simply a guitar, a few hand-claps and Jamie’s voice but is beautiful, especially when listened to on a sunny day on Brighton Waterfront – I think, the inspiration for the song.

So, with his self-proclaimed brand of “R&B.. groove-based vocal-led” music, Mr. Woon has moved a step towards reclaiming the phrase ‘R&B’ from the umbrella term for record execs snapping up the next cute, African-American with a decent voice to mime some inane sentiments to thirteen  year girls (generally), to its rightful place as the moniker for heartfelt, progressive (‘real’?) music. And in doing so, he has provided a perfect soundtrack to lazy days in the sun which the current weather is facilitating (nay; necessitating), post-club comedowns and romantic nights in the missus/fella; no mean feat. If this does not win theMercury Music Prize this year, we will either have an absolute belter of an album or a travesty of justice on our hands.  Guinness were obviously right; good things come to those who wait.

Joel Durston

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