Jamie Woon is either a very patient man or highly appreciative of the number four. Perhaps both. Either way, following on from 2007’s Wayfaring Stranger and 2011’s Mirrorwriting, a Jamie Woon release has come upon us once more with the cyclical regularity of a World Cup. It comes with the knowing title Making Time.
With his previous release coming peak post-dubstep (remember that?) and co-signed by no less than Will Bevan – Mr. Burial himself – Woon found himself very much at the zeitgeist of sound in 2011. We know this because the BBC said so.
Having picked his moment perfectly last time then, fears that his four-year sojourn has led to his boat being quite spectacularly missed would be understandable.
The boon of his soul heartland though, is that the songwriting knack Woon is pre-disposed to is nigh on timeless, and there’s a quiet self-confidence to how Making Time comes out of the gates that suggests he knows it. In fact, the message of opener ‘Message’ is just that: consider your fears eased and then expunged… I got this.
Ahead of the album’s release Woon made clear that he’d moved to a self-described 'funky rhythm section', dialing down the electronic elements he’d become known for. True to his word, the first sounds you’ll hear are that of a more organic hi-hat and the gently played 1 – 2 – 3 thud of a bass-line. Before you fret that the baby might have gone with the bathwater though, a typically dreamy and teasingly unfolding track results, and it becomes clear that Woon still vocally floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
That vocal prowess is in part an indication that some things never change, but is also a neat cipher for two of the album’s main themes: changeability and juxtaposition.
A particularly neat trick Woon pulls is his pairing of the urgent (his “aching hunger”) with the contemplative (“We need to talk about the way that it could be in 2023” - coincidentally the year his fourth record will be released). Lead single ‘Sharpness’ does something similar, born of the same absorbingly low-key stock and yet suddenly capable of tightening its grip in sound and lyric, the sudden arrival of rumbling synth and the lyric “I get this pain when you’re leaving”, flipping the mood and your initial interpretation of the track on its head.
Though things step up a notch on the swaggering ‘Movement’, where the funk-edge really comes to the fore, a strutting bassline that encapsulates the central theme: “Movement is the motivation tonight” it eventually breaks down into a killer acoustic guitar-led bridge that slowly unfurls into a richly fumpling horn coda that really suit Woon.
The closer of the opening quartet: ‘Celebration’ uses the same palate to similar effect: a decadently produced duet with folk-singer Willy Mason that’s superficially led by the gentle acoustic elements, but is actually propelled by and given an unexpected sense of tension by a deep, almost clubby bass-line.
This contrast between surface calm and underlying tension continues throughout, embodied in the lyrical ideas – coming and going, ownership and loss, stopping and starting, hot and cold – as well as the sonic ones.
It’s because of the latter though, that I linger over these opening four tracks to such an extent. In moving away from a purely electronic set-up Woon has liberated himself to tap into each element of his eclectic palette and talent. He’s clearly comfortable with all manner of accompaniment – acoustic guitar, bass music sonics, jazzy elements or even world-beat influences – and he gets away with his instrumental jumpiness when he retains his capacity to write engaging, layered and crucially memorable tracks.
The issue though, is that from here on out he doesn’t, the songs failing to hit that judgement criteria for a Jamie Woon win. The run of songs from ‘Lament’ to ‘Skin’ settle into less dynamic forms, dominated by experimentation with this wider palette of instrumentation than by actual ideas for the tracks themselves.
‘Skin’ is intriguingly structured around the lyric “growing too slowly to mention”, but never ultimately leads anywhere in the satisfying manner that ‘Movement’ did. ‘Thunder’ meanwhile feels similarly half-baked to the extent that its sketchy, repetitive jamming structure eventually proves downright irritating.
The intent of stripping away the electronic on Making Time must be to appear more directly engaging, but perhaps for that very reason the result is the opposite, with the overall effect being a less intoxicatingly immersive listen than Mirrorwriting.
Woon clearly understands the power of patience: the lull, the pause and how fundamental that is to creating a sense of value in human experience, true value being established by a scarcity of that quality in everyday life. But to use his own words when it comes to creating that value “it ain’t something you can synthesise”.
By splitting his focus over too many different milieu, the overall effect is one of an indecisiveness lack of focus, captured on the closing track by his use of the phrase “maybe I might” on a song called ‘Dedication’. Making Time has some really great tracks, but maybe with a little more time spent on a few less ideas it could perhaps have been a great album.
6Christopher T. Sharpe's Score