Wistful crooning, tasteful sounds from Jamie Woon

British musician Jamie Woon first garnered attention with his 2011 debut, Mirrorwriting.
British musician Jamie Woon first garnered attention with his 2011 debut, Mirrorwriting.PHOTO: PMR

Adele was on it. So was Sam Smith. Ellie Goulding was singled out, too.

I'm talking about the influential BBC Sound Of (the year) list, which began in 2003 and has garnered a reputation for predicting the acts that would make it big in the music scene.

British musician Jamie Woon - son of a Chinese Malaysian dad and a Glaswegian folk-singer mum - was No. 4 on the Sound of 2011 list. He was in great company: Jessie J, James Blake, Anna Calvi, Warpaint, The Vaccines.

  • SOUL/R&B


    Jamie Woon


    4/5 stars

But his tasteful debut, Mirrorwriting, though well-received, was overshadowed by Blake's own debut, as well as the rise of the electronic soul band The xx.

Save for some scattered collaborations with the likes of Banks and Disclosure, Woon was not on the pop radar for the past four years - until now.

Befitting his low-key demeanour, he quietly resurfaces with an aptly named follow-up, Making Time.

It feels, as he himself puts it, like a rebirth. Woon has highlighted D'Angelo's seminal record Voodoo as an influence and you can hear that album's limber, groovy vibes in Making Time. More significantly, it feels entirely fresh, untethered to the whims of time or fashion.

This time, his tastefulness sounds strikingly prescient. Already his single Sharpness has been selected by Pharrell and Disclosure for radio play. While many singers tend to belt, Woon goes for a wistful croon that's often embedded, rather than shoved upfront.

In Skin, he sings over decorous drums and subterranean bass: "Skin with its open agenda/Rise to the top for some air/Growing too slowly to mention/Heat in your heart and your head."

His voice is imperceptibly altered, giving it a somewhat humanoid quality. He would coo, accompanied by a chorus so soft, it feels like you're right inside his inner sanctum. There's warmth all right, but it takes an acute sensor to pick it up.

Such attention to detail pays off handsomely. As co-produced by Lexx (Bjork, Goldfrapp) and Robin Hannibal (Danish producer and one half of the chilled R&B duo Rhye), the music is minimalist yet finely judged, nimble and evolving.

Movement sounds like the latest stage in the development of the type of alternative R&B championed by Frank Ocean and The Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye. It's stripped back, relieved of the mortal coil. The horizon is infinite.

Dedication buoys along on a simple bass groove, augmented by synthesizer and light percussion, as Woon chants: "Dedicated to the unknown/Dedicated to the moon- light/Dedicated to the elements/ Dedicated to the never known/ Dedicated to all another life."

Woon celebrates the liminal, the uncelebrated, and the, well, sidelined, beseeching the listener to open up and just absorb.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Wistful crooning, tasteful sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe