One of the frustrating things I’ve experienced this year within the world of music has been the constant exposure to whining Frank Ocean fans. A horde of the neo-soul singer’s die-hard fanatics have commandeered Twitter to complain about the fact that his new album is still nowhere to be seen. The most irritating thing to me about this is that there have, by all accounts, been plenty of great releases by modern R&B artists this year - Hiatus Kaiyote, Leon Bridges and Thundercat, to name a few. 2015 has been a great year for soul music, as far as I’m concerned. Yet, despite the old adage that beggars can’t be choosers, a great deal of Frank Ocean’s fans seem to be completely unwilling to explore the genre they would otherwise seem obsessed with – in my experience at least.
Setting aside the introductory quasi-rant for a moment, Jamie Woon is the latest musician to ride this proverbial wave of soul distinction into 2015. Despite having already released his debut album back in 2011, his return to music feels completely fresh, perhaps due to his dropping off the radar for a few years. He foreshadowed his return earlier in the year with the provision of his vocal talents to Portico’s latest release, and now he returns to the stage with his second album, Making Time. The album feels smooth and effortless, utilising a somewhat altered approach than Woon’s previously established sound. The main difference between this LP and his debut is the change of this album’s stylistic roots; whereas Mirrorwriting was more inspired by trip-hop and chillout, this album has soul written all over it. From the relaxed synth bounce of Message to the captivating melodies of Dedication, the LP consistently offers the familiar, ethereal vibes central to Woon’s style.
For the most part, the album is full of mature, impressively written songs. Lament instantly gives off dark and otherworldly vibes, whilst Woon’s murky vocals sound somewhat like a more clarified version of Thom Yorke’s. The swirling, gloomy melody unfolds to reveal sparse, bright piano, and the implementation of a clever rhythm change makes for a great juxtaposition between the two sections. Elsewhere, Forgiven’s unsettling, late-night guitar lines nicely complement the excellent vocals of the track, as Woon sings “Open country as wide as the first taste / Follow the seed to the leaf to the tree”. Fourth track, Celebration is a collaboration with notable singer-songwriter Willy Mason. The song beautifully marries deep, swelling synth bounce with an uplifting horn section, and feels joyous and triumphant throughout.
However, if there’s one thing holding this album back from its full potential, it’s the strange, pseudo-experimental Thunder – a questionable track in an album otherwise filled with consistently admirable material. The track starts off with a few admittedly interesting melodies, before devolving into Woon’s ill-fitting refrain of “ba-da” whilst his backing band meander frivolously for a while – a section which quite frankly comes off like a jam session gone wrong. It seems Woon’s idea of musical experimentation in this instance is some non-standard percussion and an artificially generated siren sound. The song ends with the same self-indulgent vocal stylings and instrumentation that popped up throughout. Despite some pleasant enough sections, this adds nothing to the album as a whole.
There’s a silver lining to every cloud though, and this comes in the form of album highlight and third track, Sharpness. This song is a wonderful slow-burner in which Woon displays all his finest musical qualities through a definite less-is-more approach. The delicate vocal ornamentation and subtle instrumentation bring to mind some of D’Angelo’s work, whilst the edgy synth refrain and percussion remind somewhat of Petite Noir. This may not be the best soul album of this year, but give it a listen and it might just end up as the soundtrack to your autumn, and a fitting one at that. Make time for Making Time today.