The much maligned BRITs Performing Arts & Technology School, or BRITs School as it’s more commonly known, is having a pretty good year so far. Too often dismissed as a conveyor belt of musical mediocrity, alumnus Adele has produced the year’s biggest selling album and former pupil Katy B has recently emerged with a very impressive debut album.
Now comes fellow graduate Jamie Woon, with a debut album that’s been three years in the making. It sounds very much of its time though, thanks to the explosion of recent interest in minimal dubstep – the chilled, late night vibes of Mirrorwriting could easily sit next to recent releases by The xx and James Blake.
His long-term association with Burial (the dubstep pioneer remixed early track Wayfaring Stranger) continues to pay huge dividends. Opening track Night Air features production work by the famously low-key Londoner and it sounds like a spiritual cousin to his Untrue album – only this time, as well as the spectral beats and eerie background vocals, Woon’s smooth as honey vocals add an extra depth.
Night Air is a truly mesmerising opener – smooth and soulful, but with a slightly menacing undertow to it. It’s a trick repeated a fair few times on the album, particularly on the gorgeous, yearning ballad Gravity and on Spirits, which mixes some frantic percussion with massed choir-like backing vocals to spine-tingling effect.
The overall pace and tone of Mirrorwriting is stately and chilled – the excellent Lady Luck is the track that will most appeal to the dancefloor disciples, and even that track rarely rises above mid-tempo. In fact, it’s more of a record which will appeal to the bedroom rather than the club: it’s certainly easy to imagine would-be lotharios attempting to work their magic to the silky beats and throbby bass of Middle, for example.
Woon’s voice is terrific throughout – some may bemoan the lack of grit and edge, but he’s a soul singer in the truest sense of the word. Pleasingly, there’s also no irritating vocoder or Auto-Tune effects either: a voice like Woon’s needs no studio treatment or trickery to shine.
It’s true that it does all become a bit too laid back at times. It’s hardly an immediate album, and the first few plays may well just wash over you. Some of the tracks, inevitably for a debut, are filler: the 45 second ambient sounds of Secondbreath for example, while Spiral is five long minutes of languid relaxation that’s difficult to keep your eyes open to.
Yet there are enough moments on here to convince that Woon is a very special talent. Whether he’ll be selling as many copies of this album as some of his old schoolmates is debatable, but he’ll no doubt be hard to escape during the coming summer months.