Review Summary: While proving to be a success, Mirrorwriting also reveals that Jamie Woon might be riding the success of his famous friends to get him to the top
Upon noting that the success of Jamie Woon’s debut long player hinges entirely on whether or not the artist in question can actually sing a note to save himself, Mirrorwriting
reveals itself as nothing more than a bona-fide pop album. Stripped of all but the most necessary archetypes of the genre and muddied up just a touch, Woon’s debut, while indebted to the darker melodies of such luminaries as Ramadanman and Will Bevan, shrugs off the more murky underpinnings of his breakthrough and attempts to emerge as a vocal champion for the underground scene. A scene he was never really a part of, but placed in by the same publications that have spent the last several months building him up as the savior of dubstep and all its affiliates. And they did this because here was an artist that truly gave a voice to a world that’s long been speculated on, yet only penetrated and explored by a handful of listeners who make a habit of avoiding the kinds of places that Woon has ultimately found himself mixed up in. And he’s been dubbed the voice of this often talked on scene simply because of, well, his voice. Jamie Woon has the vocal abilities that you wish could follow you around and narrate your life; he’s the kind of guy who could sell out arenas just by simply reading the phone book.
This journey of dubstep goes pop has found Woon being compared to the other current wunderkind of the scene, one James Blake. The comparisons are rather crass to be frank though, and essentially the product of a lack of imagination. Unlike Blake, there’s no dubious or questionable premise on offer in Mirrorwriting
, there’s not a loose allegory or vague metaphor in sight that could easily halt his dominance over the radio waves by confusing listeners more suited to artists who literally make a living by saying exactly what’s on their minds. Like Blake though, Woon’s music is designed for after hour’s occupation; all those extravagant tales of walking in the shadow of the moon and dusty stories of late night subway rides usually reserved for Clubroot or Burial all apply here, and actually work more effectively, simply because the vocals give a sense of immediacy to the quasi-disparity in the music. We don’t need to search for elusive ways to pinpoint the music, because Woon spoon feeds it to us. And while there is a real sense of isolation and mystique in the music (and Woon’s somewhat shaken and “down on his luck” approach does add to this) he’s still working within the catchy confines of pop immediacy, that while exaggerating this late night aura that exudes from the album, also downplays it significantly simply because he masks it in a bright sheen of commercial appeal.
Perhaps Woon’s greatest ability then is his understated production that while suitably haunted and desolate always manages to keep its distance from the true appeal of the album, which is of course Woon himself. For the most part he keeps things to the bare minimum, framing the showcase with a sparse amount of frills and accessories. Percussion creeps in and out of the fray, no more than muted clicks and clacks, and synths lightly trickle over the arrangements, briefly illuminating the patchy black and white of the compositions in lazy splashes of color. Which makes the moments where he does break the pattern all the more effective; the perfectly placed bursts of synths in ‘Street’ elevate the otherwise pedestrian garage number to a spot that finds it not far removed from breakout single, and still album highlight, ‘Night Air’. Though to be fair, what starts out as a novelty and a trick that allows the album to punch above its weight begins to fall into a cliche long before the album wears out its run time. He also takes a page out of James Blake’s book by weaving multiple copies of himself into the framework; he turns himself into a wide eyed gospel ensemble to back himself up in ‘Lady Luck’, and they appear again in the tense ‘Spirits’, this time more nervous and haunted however, slowly cultivating their mournful tones over the otherwise threadbare backdrop.
But for all its slightly nauseating hooks that at times do more harm than good, Woon’s unique spin on pop and r&b works. Its burning temperature is tempered by a loose garage connection that keeps everything from spilling out of control; everything is all neatly tucked in and lined up to fall like dominoes, which only heightens the despondency felt in the album’s later moments. When he looses his quasi-garage backdrop he descends into fields of mediocrity already well traversed by artists more adept at crafting such laconic fare. Comparisons have been made to John Mayer, and when he picks up his guitar and discards the vocal layering these loose ties become strengthened. In some respects he bares similarities to Badly Drawn Boy; sonically they’re from completely different worlds but both display attributes that bring up visions of both artists being pulled from open mic nights and street corner busking sessions and thrown into a studio, Woon just swaps the scraggly beanie for a well cut suit. Left to little more than a guitar, Woon’s appeal starts to flounder and his words begin to lack the bite they carried when backed up by something a little more heavier. As ‘Waterfront’ goes through its semi-catatonic convulsions you immediately think of ‘Night Air’ as a comparison and wonder how we were able to arrive at such a dichotomous counterpoint. Is this the artist Woon really wants to be, and has simply shrouded his ambitions in sounds borrowed by his “peers”?
is an interesting album in the sense that it has no clear cut identity, it seems a little hesitant and unsure of what to be and how to properly go about it. It starts off as one of the most promising albums of the year, but when he reduces himself to this traveling-man-living-out-of-a-guitar-case stereotype he destroys his credibility. It’s not that the album’s final remarks are truly terrible (even though they’re not the best by any means), it’s that he completely drops all the aspects that have swept the media into a frenzy with the likes of the BBC essentially writing up love letters for him every other week. So what we’re left with at the end of the day are a few questions. While he’s got the voice, can Woon survive without help from his famous friends? The album’s last stand would suggest otherwise. Is Mirrorwriting
a great album? No, but in its brightest moments it is very good. Is it an album that you should listen to? Yes, because when he gets it right Woon is unstoppable with his disguised pop onslaught. So in returning to that all important task of deciding whether or not Jamie’s abilities will be enough to render this album a success, we finally get an answer. Yes, for now.