Jamie Woon ‘Mirrorwriting’ and Katy B ‘On a Mission’ – REVIEW

16 May

Lots of people are saying that Jamie Woon and Katy B are going to take bass music mainstream. Never mind that Much the same thing was said about James Blake, Magnetic Man, Skream and Joy Orbison; we are  assured that Katy and Jamie are the ones take bass music to the top of the charts. They say ‘bass music’ because the pair don’t easily fit into a more specific category – dubstep, garage, house, Drum & Bass, techno, r&b – they kind of put all those genres into a big blender, and then pour the contents into tasty little shots that are easy for the public to swallow. Jamie Woon has concocted a fruity, mature wine, whilst Katy B has made something that tastes like WKD. The blue one. Both are quite more’ish.

Katy B has sort of gone mainstream already – her album reached number 2 in the charts and she’s had three top ten singles. Woon’s debut on the other hand slipped in at a rather disappointing number 15 and he’s yet to have a single break the top 40. It’s not hard to see why Katy B’s ‘On a Mission’ has been the more successful of the two records. Not only is it the better album in its own way, it’s also the more commercial one. It’s filled with songs about dancing that are perfect for people to dance to. It doesn’t really cut much deeper, but that’s ok , we never really ask it to. Songs like ‘Perfect Stranger’,  ‘Broken Record’ and ‘Lights on’ are exceptionally catchy, well produced four to the floor stompers, and you’d have to be pretty sour faced not to enjoy them.

However I do have to take issue with Katy B’s dubstep association (not that anyone really cares about labels anyway). Whilst a dubstep influence is apparent from time to time in the wobbly bass and accelerate/decelerate rhythms, this could easily have been released five, or even ten years ago; cutting edge this isn’t (as far as I’m concerned). Katy goes for the massive hooks where dub-step is usually restrained. She isn’t afraid to be euphoric where dub-step is usually introspective. She goes for the jugular with direct shots, dub-step takes more of a scartter-shot approach. Which is not to put her down; this is a very good party album, probably the best I’ve heard all year, it’s just not the experimental party album it’s being billed as.

Jamie Woon has certainly got a more obvious link to the dubstep world. The mysterious and influential producer Burial worked on a couple of his tracks, and the album has the same late night atmosphere that worked wonders for The XX and James Blake. The difference is that Woon started out acoustically, making pretty little ballads and playing to tiny crowds in hip London pubs. Those acoustic origins shine through despite the very electronic production. I don’t know what those gigs were like but I imagine that they must have been pretty sedate affairs because if you were to strip these songs of the innovative production you would discover that ‘Mirrorwriting’ is a pretty bland collection of songs. ‘Lady Luck’, ‘Night Air’ and a few of the other numbers are catchy enough but there is nothing on here that will have you jumping to your feet screaming ‘eureka!’

Take out the clever production tricks and this could be an r&b record from the 90’s. The vocals tickle and tease, the melodies are understated and Woon plays the role of seducer. He has cited Michael Jackson as an influence but rather than mining Off The Wall and Thriller like most R&B singers do, Woon has clearly been listening to later day Michael; Dangerous, History and even Invincible. It works for him – he is quite the singer, and he knows how to mingle classic production with 21st century studio trickery. It’s just a shame the songs themselves aren’t as well constructed.

Comparisons have obviously been made between Woon and James Blake, but influences aside the similarities are few and far between. Blake’s album sounded brilliantly effortless; it was condensed, considered and unafraid of silence. Woon’s debut is far busier with ideas and it’s less distinctive, but it also lacks the songs that Blake’s debut had.  Albums made for the night are often in danger of actually making you fall asleep, and  ‘Mirrorwriting’ had me nodding off a few times. It just needs a few more tunes with the urgency of ‘Shoulda’, or ‘Lady Luck’ and the emotional punch of ‘Waterfront’ to keep me from drifting away.

If it was a competition (and despite lumping the reviews together, I’m not suggesting that it is) then Katy B would win just for having the chooooons that Woon’s album sorely misses. But whilst Katy has made the better album, I would say that Jamie Woon is the one with real potential. ‘On a Mission’ lives for the moment, but it doesn’t have any great depth and you suspect that Katy B is a disposable pop star in the same mould as Miss Dynamite or Dido. Jamie Woon on the other hand has real talent in his blood and whilst he may not have made a perfect debut, you are left feeling sure that better things are on the horizon for him.

Jamie Woon ‘Mirrorwriting’ – 6/10

Katy B ‘On a Mission’ – 7/10

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One Response to “Jamie Woon ‘Mirrorwriting’ and Katy B ‘On a Mission’ – REVIEW”

  1. drunkerthanpaula June 17, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    You just nailed everything right in this post. Great analysis.

    Mirrorwriting: to me, the best tracks are the ones co-produced by both Jamie & Burial. When Burial steps away, the album is pretty boring. There are moments Jamie Woon kinda nailed that sound of moody/sexy R&B (Gravity) but overall, it’s very underwhelming.

    For Katy, I think my problem with On A Mission is the song-writing. Production is good, nothing inventive or amazing, but it is done in a smart way (Broken Record & On A Mission). I just don’t get that “being blown away”. But I’m still looking forward to her next work. Maybe one day she can pull out a pop classic like Toxic or Dancing On My Own.

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