First Impressions: Reflections On Jamie Woon's 'Mirrorwriting'

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The early reviews for Jamie Woon's Mirrorwriting have been...well, interesting reading. Lots of praise. Lots of hate. Lots of premature proclamations of 'album of the year'. Lots of  'this is so boring'. And lots of 'James Blake is better'. I hadn't seen this many emotional and divided reviews since Janelle Monae released The ArchAndroid last year. Either people love it, or people hate it---or they compared it to James Blake. 

I'm geared to love it based on "Night Air" alone, which was by far one of the most original pieces that graced my ears last year. It was cunning with a touch of old school soul crooning nestled into it's eerie fog. It was the atmospheric 'a-ha moment' that sort of made it not your typical song and brought you into thinking, "Who in hell is this guy? And what else has he got up his sleeve?"

Even though Woon is no stranger to the underground music lovers set, with his Wayfaring Stranger EP having been kicked around for some time, his real official welcome was with the Burial produced single, "Night Air", and thus, anticipation for a full set arose. So now we are here at Mirrorwriting, the debut album that is filled with Woon's meditations on heartbreak and conflict set to sparse soul backings, and it is quite a treat for the ears. 

To get the tap dancing gorilla out of the way, there have been a number of comparisons between fellow Briton James Blake and Woon since they were pegged as being acts to watch out for in 2011. Barking at their heels has been their genre of choice "dubstep" and numerous proclamations of them being the 'future of R&B' and the two savants who could bring R&B out of it's slump. It is true that come next year, we'll be seeing Blake/Woon-esque tracks from even the most commercial of artists, but I find both Blake and Woon so dissimilar, that it bugs me when people claim they are one in the same. Sure, they have a similar approach to the construction of their music, but at their core, the technique is divergent.

Blake, with his cerebral self-titled debut, follows in a more abstract vein, that chills to the bone and feels more calculated and not natural. Woon's Mirrorwriting, though sterile itself, leans on warmer soul sensibilities and feels like an album that can be accessible to many, not a few. While Blake has quite an enchanting tepidness to his sound, Mirrorwriting is more my speed as their is less mechanics, and more fleshed out compositions with vocals and full ideas swimming around.

Examples of that rest in the exceptional brooding exercise of "Spirits", which anchors the album at the half mark, with its brooding, soulful backing vocals and brilliantly collapses into "Echoes", a short, yet, bubbling and skittish percussion driven love ballad. Woon's attention to song composition flows into the beautiful, "Gravity", which calmly flows in its ambiance.   

What is so enchanting about Mirrorwriting is that it feels seeped in the ideal of 90's R&B with Woon sounding more like Usher, Timberlake and Thicke then they do these days. Most will not admit it, but when you hear the funky pulse of  "Lady Luck", serene "Shoulda", and the equally melodic bounce of "Middle" (my favorite), you can't help but get dreams of boyband/R&B guy grandeur from bygone eras. Sorry, music snobs, but Woon is all about the delectable melodic hooks than being icily distant like his peers, just that instead of *NSYNC you're just listening to the gourmet chocolate version, not the Easter Bunny milk chocolate one. Both are satisfying, just one brand is of a higher grade.



Sticking to the bare necessities, Mirrorwriting, follows in a minimalistic obscure sound, but richly weaves in a soulful sensibility with that vibe strictly coming from Woon's truly hypnotizing croon. It's 'sterile soul', it's crisp, clean, and harmonious. Tedious it can become with a straight through listen due to nothing urging you to break a sweat, but there is an air of ambiance that makes it also an album that can be placed on and not worried about, as it contains music that swallows you it's atmosphere.  

Mirrorwriting does in fact breathe new life in the soul and R&B formula, by taking a risk here, and then bringing back the familiar there. With "Night Air" kicking things off in it's originality, the rest of Mirrorwriting showcases a brand new talent that is bubbling, not yet bursting through, but just enough coming to the surface that you can only imagine what Woon might do five, or even ten years from now with this enriching style he has crafted.

Oh, and do I love or hate it? Pretty much at the moment, I love it. This is hype that is to be believed.

Release Date: April 18, 2011 (UK) // April 26, 2011 (US)

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  1. Thanks for the review - I agree that people will take notice of his soulful, kind of electronic mix -and I've loved every track I've been able to get my hands on (Night Air, Lady Luck, Spirals - it makes me think Robin Thicke would love to cover this track, plus songs like Gravity). . I've heard James Blake's album which I like but agree that it is more abstract and moody in a different way--I think it is actually great to have these 2 different sounds to get to choose from. Plus Jamie sounds great with just his guitar - he did a lovely cover of Adele's "Someone Like You" that you can catch on youtue. How lucky that you've already gotten a chance to hear it - I'm looking forward to the 18th.

  2. I love the CD. It's been in heavy rotation for a minute. Definitely one of the best so far this year...


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