Woon’s debut has taken its time, but the beguiling results have been worth the wait.
Paul Clarke 2011-04-04
As the stately pace of Mirrorwriting attests, Jamie Woon is not one to rush. And when the four years between his debut single, Wayfaring Stranger, and this first album have produced something so beguiling, it’s clearly been time well spent.
Things would probably be quite different for Woon had he’d got his act together sooner. In 2007, his fragile cover of an old folk spiritual placed him pretty much alone at the crossroads between rural blues and urban electronica, a 20-something Robert Johnson from London who’d sold his soul to dubstep instead of the Devil. Today, though, he shares this space with The xx and James Blake; and overshadowed by The xx’s Mercury Prize victory and Blake’s own debut album of earlier in 2011, Woon’s music could now be in danger of sounding wearily familiar rather than darkly mysterious.
Stood next to Blake and The xx, Mirrorwriting sounds like Katy Perry covering Walking on Sunshine: which is to say that he’s both much more accessible and a lot less gloomy than his contemporaries, even if his music is equally enigmatic and enchanting. There is still plenty of electronic smoke-and-mirrors activity on tracks like Gravity, but despite ultra-modern tricks he’s less sonic explorer than classic songwriter. Even the more experimental tracks like Shoulda follow a melodic verse-chorus-verse format, and although the shadows lengthen from the offset with lead single Night Air, Woon’s lyrics are largely simple stories of romantic woe instead of evocations of nebulous melancholy, delivered in richly quavering tones reminiscent of Ben Westbeech.
It’s a comparison that also suggests Woon’s timing might not be so far off, after all. Now that Westbeech is departing the jazz and blues of Welcome to the Best Years of Your Life for more upbeat house territory, there’s clearly a vacant space for another underground UK soulboy. Woon might be thinking about such vicissitudes of fortune when he sings "It ain’t something that you can synthesise" on Lady Luck, but when it comes to creating a new compound from the timeless spirit of the blues, he’s done exactly that.