Finally Woken, Jem's full-length debut, fleshes out the It All Starts Here EP with six additional tracks. It features the addicting title track, the same one that blew away KCRW and Nic Harcourt and got her signed to ATO, and it really is quite brilliant. With a dizzy main loop and loping percussion that undulates slyly beneath Jem's dusky vocal detachment, it sounds like what would happen if Beth Orton started bouncing ideas off of Super Furry Animals' hard drive. The song's formula essentially repeats throughout Finally Woken -- Jem's simplistically alluring vocals stringing along subtle electronic percussion, ear-catching samples, and melodic loops built from traditional instruments. However, perhaps because this debut sort of snuck up on her, it seems stylistically scattershot. Jem and collaborator Yoad Nevo have a jones for switching things up. They elongate and reduce their elements wildly, to varying degrees of success. ("Missing You," for example, is just too weepy, while "Wish I"'s breezy '60s pop update somehow sounds too shrill.) Still, this adventurism is to be applauded. Jem could've rewritten "Finally Woken" ten times and given Dido a run for the MOR electro-pop title. Instead, she settles awkwardly between mainstream accessibility and intimate bedroom electronica -- she even recorded much of her vocal work in bedrooms. "They" amplifies the percussion and drops in chattering children nonsensicals as a sample, while "Save Me"'s sultry bump could have been written for Ashanti. It just begs for an MC to break in; instead, Jem herself switches to cheeky sort of rap cadence for the final verse. "Mirror mirror on the wall/Who's the dumbest of them all?" she coos in her slight Welsh lilt. "24" is more aggressive with its insistent violin loop and roaring electric guitar -- there's even a church bell tolling in the background -- while "Falling for You" channels the breezy space pop of Zero 7. Overall, Jem's songcraft is only ambitious in relation to a genre often defined by a "blander is better" pleasure principle. But it's the intimacy she squeezes between Finally Woken's capable cutting, pasting, and sequencing that makes it really inviting. It's like a sheaf of endearingly crumpled love letters from a talented, scatterbrained friend.
Finally Woken Review
by Johnny Loftus