Jamie Woon: Mirrorwriting – review

(Candent Songs/Polydor)

Falling between two stools doesn't sound like a graceful pursuit, especially for a debutant. But slipping and sliding between people's expectations can make for some intriguing music, not least this debut by 28-year-old Londoner Jamie Woon. Heard from one angle, Woon is the sort of singer-songwriter that record companies love to turn into James Morrison. His mother was a session singer; Woon went to the Brit school. His voice is soulful; there's Youtube footage of Woon in years past, playing guitar quite conventionally. If it didn't start with the sound of a carbonated drink being poured into a glass, or bump along on little shards of digital ice, "Middle" could be a perfectly middling soul-pop hit. "I can't get enough of your love," Woon purrs smoothly, sweeping up a listenership who find his fellow-traveller James Blake too austere.

But Woon isn't just another wipe-clean R&B loverboy. A few years ago, he fell into the orbit of Mercury contender Burial. Burial's dubstep remix of Woon's debut single, "Wayfaring Stranger" – a cover of an old American spiritual – made that thoroughly haunting record even more of an event. Sadly, neither is included here. Woon has also absorbed the lessons of the xx, and has written a great deal of space and claustrophobia into his dozen album tracks. "I've acquired a taste for silence," runs "Night Air", still Woon's finest three minutes. The sampled wicker chairs and Cornish pebbles, meanwhile, connect this very urban record to organic materials.

At its least interesting, Mirrorwriting just adds dubstep wobble and digital tricks to otherwise unspectacular songs. "Spirals" falls into this trap; soon afterwards, Mirrorwriting goes into a terminal decline that no measure of bejewelled moodiness can redress.

But for the most part, Woon strikes a terrific balance between convention and subversion. "Spirits", a gospel-tinged track, swings along irresistibly. More tracks on this wavelength would have made Mirrorwriting a more authoritative release. As it is, you worry that this record won't be challenging enough for the arthouse crowd, who will hear Woon's vanilla vocals and switch off.

And having released his most commercial single, "Lady Luck", last month, Woon has singularly failed to wow the mainstream, either. It charted at number 93. Perhaps a bootylicious pop video would have helped, rather than one of Woon looking doleful on the Budapest subway system. For this is really a most cutting-edge R&B pop record; it deserves a little ubiquity.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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