Jamie Woon's debut album 'Mirrorwriting' has been three years in the making. and a lifetime in the writing. These are twelve pitch-perfect gems that combine forward-thinking production with beautifully crafted songs; a sonic support-system that frames and holds Woon's luminous voice in all the right places. It's intimate without being obvious, emotional without being syrupy and honest without being confessional, where the basic touchstones of human emotion get a fresh and soulful airing.
This, he says, is a calming record, made for himself and for other people. He's crafted a raft of dreamy, unsettled melancholy, pieces of music which try to shake off anxiety by finding a groove and songs that aim to evoke inscrutable things. Oh, and Woon claims there are at least four songs about going for a walk.
Jamie Woon has had a remarkable few months. Back in October he released Night Air, as dark, sweet and seductive as molasses, an irresistibly understated combination of Jamie's uniquely supple voice, his subtly compulsive beats and a sky full of atmosphere. It was written with some additional production from Burial, and came with a remix from superlatively-talented producer Ramadanman (who sealed their friendship by naming one of his 2007 releases 'The Woon'). The next month he was featured in The Guardian's New Band Of The Day, and four weeks later found himself playlisted at Radio 1 and hovering at the top end of the BBC's Sounds of 2011 poll come the start of the year. He's since enjoyed 2 sell-out UK tours. Things are changing rapidly for the 28 year old Londoner.
It's been a long journey to get to this point, or more accurately two journeys: life up to the release of his first 12" Wayfaring Stranger and life between then and now. The former has been widely disseminated: he grew up in the South London suburbs with his mother, folk singer Mae McKenna, who'd take him along while she was recording backing vocals for Kylie Minogue, and would let him try out her small studio in their house, where he spent hours multi-tracking his voice in the same way she would for her job as a backing vocalist. His uncles Hugh and Ted were also members of the sensational Alex Harvey Band. Woon gained a place at the BRIT school the year before Amy Winehouse and co-founded an acoustic night called OneTaste, racking up hundreds of hours of gigs at their monthly events, and as they began taking the sessions out to festivals in the mid-late 2000s.
The second part of the journey began when Wayfaring Stranger came out in 2007. That record, now rated of one of the best 12"s of the last decade thanks to the Burial mix, came out on Live Recordings, an innovative project in Lewisham run by social enterprise Livity, where a group of young men from local estates ran their own label for a year. Woon was heavily into Burial's first album and acting on a passing comment from a mutual friend that the anonymous producer liked male vocals, contacted his record label.
'Mirrorwriting' took three years of work and reworking. Woon was sharing a house with fellow musicians Portico Quartet in Clapton, East London working on his MacBook and doing endless takes of each song, recording vocals at The Way studio in Hackney, and 2 months in a cottage in Trevone, Cornwall, where he recorded clicks and taps on the wicker furniture, and recorded the sounds of stones from the nearby stream to turn into snare drums. He admits to doing hundreds of takes in order to get exactly the right combination of mystery and technical polish. By the end he was down to 'only' six or seven takes. He might be a perfectionist, but he's also unpredictable: the night before mastering the record he reprised an old song, Blue Truth, which he released as a free download 2 days later.
'Mirrorwriting' is a debut that's ripe for that transition from niche to mainstream. It's a deeply personal record that draws from R'nB, folk, '80s and '90s soul and pop, UK bass culture and the blues. It digs into emotions we all feel and sends them spinning, just-recognisable, back to us.
"It's personal, almost therapeutic. I'm quite a private person and I don't set out to talk about my business in public but when songs are done you can't get around it. They are like a code, and all you need is a mirror to read it."