Jamie Woon comes from many pedigrees, literal and figurative. The son of the Celtic folk singer Mae McKenna, Woon rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter on the London open-mic circuit. While his folksy roots inspire his melodies, he is another member of the recent boomlet of UK blue-eyed soul. Strained comparisons have been made to the dubstep of James Blake, but Woon’s straightforward (albeit electronic) approach fits more comfortably next to fellow BRIT School alums Adele and Amy Winehouse. He aims high, but he’s better at R&B pastiche than heady experimentation. His debut Mirrorwriting is strongest at the song-level, but as a whole the sensual, relaxed groove of the album’s 45 minutes almost begs for soundtrack status, like a Portishead record, to be played at a dinner party and later again in the bedroom.
Jamie Woon originally wrote Mirrorwriting’s twelve tracks on acoustic guitar and later reworked them as electronic compositions on a computer. Though a novice producer (he self-produced the entire album, with a little help from Burial), Woon deftly uses beats and textures to compliment the R&B backbone of his songs. Mirrorwriting is best played on headphones; the interplay of vocals and electronics can be as inviting as Woon’s hooks. The stop-and-start beat of “Lady Luck” turns what could have been a ballad into a thumping and anxious gem. “Sometimes I wish I could anesthetize, bring up the lows bring down the highs,” he sings. By doing the latter, Woon obliterates any chance of the former.
Mirrorwriting is rife with tracks just waiting to be scavenged for future lounge-music compilations. “Night Air” describes afterhours as surely as it evokes them. The easy gallop and finger-snap of its beat reclines lazily like the posture of a body on a plush club booth. The pop-immediacy of Woon’s early-heroes Boys II Men is evident on the gorgeous “Shoulda.” The twitchy “Middle” is a highlight, with its call-and-response verse and string overdubs. “Spiral” unspools with slow-jam ease, sex its best, if not only, reason for being.
It’s a shame Mirrorwriting is so damn downbeat. Like Antony Hegarty, Jamie Woon has a voice made for dance music. Its melancholic purity would augment a rave-up as well as it does these slow-burners. Perhaps Woon needs an Andy Butler to push him in new directions, to shake him from his apparent sonic slump. Mirrorwriting as a unit muddles with repeated listens, even as its individual tracks tend to sharpen.
Jamie Woon has the potential to break out like Adele and Amy Winehouse did before him, but his songwriting and production sensibilities weigh him down (like “Gravity”). If atmosphere is all you care about, then Mirrorwriting is mostly a success. Woon doesn’t deviate from his sound – from “Night Air” to “Waterfront.” But if you’re looking for more than background music to accompany a flaky hor d’oeuvre or a steamy romp in bed, then Mirrorwriting is better enjoyed in bits and pieces, and maybe with a cup of coffee. Night music is fine. Ambien, however, is best left to the prescription pad.
Jamie Woon – “Lady Luck”