Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting

by Charly Richardson Rating:6 Release Date:2011-04-11

Mirrorwriting is the debut from London-based Jamie Woon, an artist who has generated a considerable buzz since releasing the breakthrough single 'Night Air', signing to Polydor and coming fourth in the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll. Like many breakthrough artists, you could be mistaken for thinking that the 28-year-old had sprung up overnight. In fact, as is usually the case, the reality is years of toil and experimentation. As a stalwart of One Taste Collective (a collection of like-minded artists who found themselves on the same summer festival circuit), Woon was a straight-up singer-songwriter before Burial remixed his version of 'Wayfaring Stranger', adding haunting electronics and a 2-step shuffle. Woon had a revelation, and never looked back.

Much credit is owed to Burial for the inspiration, but also to Woon for taking such a leap of faith, for it is this fusion of gentle R&B vocals with electronic sampling and soundscaping which makes Mirrorwriting really interesting. The term 'post-dubstep' is bandied around a lot these days, and although Woon doesn't exactly fit into this category, he has emerged at the same time as James Blake, Katy B, and a new generation of artists who have taken pop back to the drawing board after a decade in which dubstep and its rapidly evolving sub-genres have turned the dance world on its head.

Having heard the brooding, shuffling 'Night Air' with its quirky, naturalistic lyrical themes (something which crops up throughout the album), I put on Mirrorwriting expecting - possibly optimistically - a borderline revolutionary experiment in 21st century pop. Indeed the enchanting 'Gravity' and 'Spiral' compliment 'Night Air' nicely; utilising luscious soundscapes, manipulated drums and other effects to create a brilliantly warm and warped sound. Their slower tempo is better suited to Woon's vocals, and these are easily the strongest songs. Compare this version of 'Gravity' with the acoustic version on 2007's Wayfaring Stranger EP; the difference is staggering. Without being overwhelming, the newer version's electronic additions deeply enhance the mood, perfectly compliment the vocals and generally complete a more ambitious sound.

Considering that this experimental electronic element is what helps him stand out from other singer-songwriters, it seems strange that Woon (or Polydor) have not entirely stuck to the courage of their convictions. Tracks like 'TMRW' and 'Street', which taker a softer approach to electronic manipulation, emerge as little more than mediocre pop. The latter's lyrics about shopping with a loved one are more than a little banal: "You can try on anything for free, pick up anything you need", and the horrendous synth sound doesn't help matters.

When used tastefully, Woon's - wait for the cliché - 'soulful' voice soars. Yet a couple of songs (most notably 'Echoes') are cute to the point of being twee (to me this grates, to female teenage fans probably less so). And despite his impressive voice, after hearing the album in one sitting the range it occupies and the melodies it carves out can seem stagnant, even repetitive.

There are some songs which, although only lightly manipulated, still engage. 'Lady Luck' is undeniably catchy, and the melancholy verse of 'Shoulda' has a gorgeous, modal-folk melody. Commercial viability (or major-label paranoia) no doubt restricted how far Mirrorwriting could go in terms of its pop/R&B/electronica genre-bending. Maybe Woon also needs more time to get the balance right (after all, his artistic submersion into this new sonic world happened relatively recently). It may also be a case of finding the right producer: 'Night Air' (co-produced by Burial) is exemplary, as is his work with other producers (check out Subeena's 2009 single 'Solidify').

Although he is a very different artist and any close comparisons are tenuous, Woon could certainly have taken a leaf out of James Blake's book, for Blake has aptly demonstrated that modern-day pop artists can afford to be a little more experimental. The eerie 'Secondbreath' (the only interlude on this album) shows that Woon is more than capable of futuristic sound exploration. Mirrorwriting definitely contains hints of gold, but if Jamie Woon wants to be regarded as truly innovative and boundary-pushing, the next album needs to take a few more risks. Maybe the Deluxe version (which is due for release the same day and has eight additional tracks) will prove me wrong.

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