Through no fault of his own, 28-year-old Londoner Jamie Woon arrived on the scene already having to justify whether we needed either another BRIT school graduate or another sensitive, British singer/songwriter named James on the scene. While his first album, Mirrorwriting, shares a few similarities with his counterparts in the former category in the shape of Katy B's dubstep leanings and the late Lynden David Hall's chilled-out soul, and the latter in its minimal James Blake-esque production, its unique, after-hours sound ensures that he deserves his place on various "sound of 2011" polls as much as anyone. Indeed, comparisons with Blake's self-titled debut may be inevitable, but these 12 tracks are a different beast, placing emphasis much more on poppier melodies and Woon's swoon, comprised of some Terence Trent D'Arby-esque vocals thankfully free of unnecessary Auto-Tune. The first half of Mirrorwriting, in particular, is a particularly impressive display creating a nocturnal atmosphere without foregoing any memorable hooks. Lead single "Night Air" is a gorgeous fusion of ghostly bleeps and Burial-produced beats, whose clever use of space appropriately ties in with its lyrics of "I've acquired a taste for silence"; the warm-layered synths, low-slung basslines and blue-eyed soul harmonies of "Shoulda" sound like a 2011 update of Mike + the Mechanics' "Silent Running," while the twitchy, Timbaland-style beats and staccato strings of "Middle" echo the Prince-pastiche funk of Justin Timberlake's last record, even if its schmaltzy boy band lyrics ("I can't get enough of your love") are more *NSync-esque. But following the gospel-tinged, '90s trip-hop of "Spirits," the album seems to lose its focus, as Woon's soothing, tremulous tones get pushed to the sidelines in favor of the obligatory, wobbly basslines on the slow jam "Spirals," and the aimless ambient electronica and clattering percussion on "Echoes," while the 47-second instrumental "Secondbreak" is perhaps the most pointless interlude committed to record this year. Woon nearly gets things back on track with the Neptunes-style beats and pounding, bluesy piano chords of "TMRW," but the meandering "Gravity" fails to live up to its early cinematic promise, while the acoustic closer, "Waterfront," veers dangerously close to the wishy-washy Morrison/Blunt territory that the first half of the disc so effortlessly avoids. Mirrorwriting is an encouraging first offering which should neatly fill the spacious, indie R&B gap until the XX's next record comes along, but if it could have sustained the quality of its opening six tracks, it could have been much better.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien