13 August 2016

Jamie Woon - Making Time

Well, here is my first official review as part of this year's Mercury Music Prize reviews (after all ready reviewing 'A Moon Shaped Pool' by Radiohead (link to review up), 'Blackstar' by the late, great David Bowie (review linked here) & 'I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware' by The 1975 (review linked here) earlier in the year), which I have always asked the rest of the bloggers on here to complete as it gives us a moment where we are stepping out of our comfort zones, trying something new and different which is what I want this blog to be - it should be about exploring and not staying in the familiar places we are used to (although at times, we do review our favourite artists as well - otherwise I have a feeling I might have a mutiny on my hands).  This review is looking at New Malden born solo artist Jamie Woon, who is (for want of a better word) a product of the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology in Selhurst, Croydon - a school which has produced Adele, The Feeling, Jessie J, Imogen Heap, Katie Nash amongst others; a mixture of good and over produced there).  'Making Time' his second album and it was released in November 2015 (so it will not be eligible for our own album of the year poll) and his music is described as Electronica, Trip Hop, R&B, Neo Soul, Post Dubstep and downtempo.  Now I have seen the word underground attached to Jamie Woon a lot, but this is not something I can agree with as he has in the past supported Amy Winehouse, been on the BBC Sound of 2011 list, released collaborations with Disclosure, Paul White & Banks and has released both of his records with Polydor records (his first album 'Mirrorwriting' was a Top 20 album in 2011).  No offence to Jamie Woon, but that is quite far from the underground in anyone's books.  But enough of the history here, how has the music turned out, why was this album nominated for the Mercury Music Prize 2016 and most importantly, does it deserve it?

Starting the album is "Message" is an atmospheric opening, with a minimal backing, sparse keyboards, light drums, bass giving support and mostly it focuses on the vocals of Jamie Moon.  Musically it is not too bad, I have a feeling that there is influences here from Stevie Wonder to the vocals in places, a little bit of dub in the bass, some nice touches to the drums; but ultimately it is a little bit forgettable by the end of it.  Even after repeated listens, it does not gain traction in my mind and drifts all to easily from memory after it has been played which is probably due to the light touch of all of the instrumentation on the album.  It does not have to be loud, but it needs to feel as if there is some passion attached to it.  "Movement" fares a little better, with a little more energy to the sound it makes stand out a little more.  The soul side of this album is best represented on this number, albeit in a stripped back version of the sound, one that has a stronger presence and style than "Message".  It is still a little bit too background for my own personal tastes, the music does not give me chills and is a little bit too laid back for the vocals.  Not bad, but neither is it doing anything right either.  "Sharpness" is one of three tracks which features contributions from producer Robin Hannibal and it was the only song off the album to be released as a single.  From the beginning of the song, this is a step up in terms of style, tempo and performance.  There are a few extra layers to the sound, a little darker synth to the overall sound and with those few simple steps it has gained a little more interest from me.  I will be honest, it is still not making my world spin around and I am not engaging with it in a way I would be with something by someone like Kendrick Lamar or Roni Size for example (neither artist is similar to Jamie Woon, but they are both so far from my average listening that I need a map to get back) - a decent number, but no more than that.

"Celebration" is a collaboration with American Country/Blues singer Willy Mason, once again it is a step forward from the earlier tracks of the album with another added layer and the crocking vocals of Willy Mason mixed in with the horns add something else to this song.  The bassline on this is magnetic, the horn sections is loud and then underneath it seems to be the same old minimalist sounds that hold the album back.  I like this one a lot more than others on here, but it is still not winning me over.  "Lament" features Royce Wood Junior, who classes his style as Country, Soul, Honk, Tonk & Tron.  This track is incredibly dull, it is so slow and without direction that I am struggling to remember the song as I am listening to it.  The best part, the drumming is good on this song, all broken up and focused - it is all the other stuff on here that is not making any sense, so it is safe to say that it is not my cup of tea and it feels longer than the three minutes and twenty-one seconds it took.  "Forgiven" is an immediate remedy to that song, it has energy from the beginning, an interesting guitar part, some rhythmical playing that you can focus on and it shows that there is some passion on this record.  The second song with Robin Hannibal is not a game changer, but it is an isle of reprieve to a lot of this album; also there is still something missing here, yet it is one of the best on offer here and that is not saying too much to be honest.

"Little Wonder" is the third track that features Robin Hannibal, this time it is a lot slower and not even the producer of Kendrick Lamar can help here.  It aims to be a soulful, thought provoking piece and it is just easy listening for dinner parties and real estate agents, next.  "Thunder" is a song that is aiming to be dynamic on this album, trying to be something slightly different and it misses.  It is performed competently, I cannot fault that; what I can fault is that unlike thunder, there is no energy to this track and no real sound that makes it explosive.  It is about this point that I am starting to realise what is missing from the album, but I will leave that for the conclusion.  Long story short here, the song is as average as an average thing can be when it is stuck in an average place, on an average day in your average month.  The penultimate song is called "Skin" and it is empty from the beginning, aiming to sound seductive and having passion and all that jazz, but it is hollow sound on this one and nothing here is making me want to hold my lover in a fit of passion.  Nope, it tries to build the passion as the song progresses, all it builds is a desire for the song to end.  Ending the album is the song "Dedication" which is just under seven minutes long and does not care the listener off to a better ending with enlightenment that gives the rest of the album meaning.  No, but it does sound like the natural ending for this record and it does add some energy to this record.  To be honest, as it has more time to grow, it has time to expand and gives the audience a little bit more to understand and if the album had been a little more like this and "Forgiven" then it would have been a different beast.

It is safe to say that this is not the album for me, no beating around the bush - it is dull and at times it is very uninspiring.  The musicians on here sound as if they are being held back a little by the vision of the artist and it just needed a few extra things to take it from where it is to be just decent.  But I have mentioned throughout that there are a few things missing, one of them is the aforementioned sound, this could have been more and it sounds a little hollow.  Second, it is the actual vocals by the artist himself.  Jamie Woon's vocals are do not sound at home with the music for me.  He can sing, I cannot take that away from the man and I would not want to; but there is a difference between passion and talent, the man might have a talent for singing, but there is little to no passion to that performance.  I might be wrong, but I think he might want to sing in a different medium and this is an album that the label wanted over the artist, but such is the price of fame sometimes.  It is not the worst album I have heard this year and as I said, I cannot fault the musicians, but it is certainly one of the blandest ones and that is slightly sad.

3 out of ten - Not for everyone but played well.

Top track - Forgiven

You can purchase Making Time from Amazon here.

You can visit the Jamie Woon website here.

You can follow the activities of Jamie Woon on Facebook here.

You can stream Making Time on Spotify here.

You can stream Making Time on Deezer here.

You can stream Making Time on Tidal here. 

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