With bedroom production and scruffy vocals about UK youths, Jamie T. emerges as a DIY savant on his excellent debut.
Young UK singer and song-maker Jamie T., (Treays), is the same kind of street-smart observer as the lads in the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, and every other post-Clash indie rock band out of England this decade. Instead of reiterating and diluting the established formula, however, Jamie eschews the usual rock band arrangement of guitar, bass, and drums in favor of spare DIY pop. The result is a fresh take on a style that, in rough parallel to Brit-Pop in the late '90s, is in need of reviving.
On track one of his debut album, Panic Prevention, Jamie lets us know that he's going to be playing the troubled young man: "Well I, I went to buy myself a handgun". In the end, he invests in a less destructive item: "But I spent all my money on this cracked out piece of shit called the bass guitar". This description also establishes the overall aesthetic of the album. While the recordings are fairly clean, they certainly lack the polish indicative of expensive new gear being used in a pro studio.
As the cover photo suggests, most of this CD was recorded using cheap instruments, samples from a few old LPs, and a PC. The most important feature here, though, is the voice of Jamie T., both his actual singing voice (which sounds very much like Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner's) and his lyrical voice, which lands him squarely among his youth-conscious UK contemporaries, (the Fratellis, the Streets' Mike Skinner, those Arctic Monkeys again, and bonus track guest artist Lily Allen).
Jamie T. combines these elements to great effect. "Salvador" sounds like the perfect mixture of Big Audio Dynamite-era Mick Jones and a young Robert Smith, had they ever gotten together with a Casio and a cheap barrel of wine. Over the percolating synths of "So Lonely Was the Ballad", Jamie offers a bouncing, pre-gangsta style pop-rap that starts with a harmonica player, transitions to his sons going out for the night, and ends with a girl whose "dress is ripped" and "shoes are soaking". The addictive UK hit single "Sheila" covers similar themes of bar room mating rituals, but has the happiest electro-pop sound since M.I.A.'s "Sunshowers".
With reggae guitar, spare drum machine rhythms, and slightly crazed vocals, "Dry Off Your Clothes" sounds like early Lee "Scratch" Perry. The recently released second single "If You Got the Money" features a full complement of guest musicians, along with a sample from Inner Circle's "Sweat (A La La La La Long)". It's a cheeky ditty about getting cheap dates with girls whose boyfriends showed them a nice time the night before. I'm not sure the logic is all that sound, but the sound of the song is great, as Jamie once again infuses his DIY indie pop with a Jamaican twist.
The detractors will say they've heard this all before. Yes, Jamie's lyrics cover the same middle class pavements and dance floors as many other acts, but it's ridiculous to criticize an artist for writing about what he or she knows. Jamie's world is full of real people just trying to get by, and he profiles these characters in an engaging way, delving into the debauchery and ennui of the lives of young people. He sets these profiles to beats and tunes as cheap and tasty as a warm beer in a hot bar. It's a deliciously dangerous place to hang out for a while. Enter the world of Panic Prevention and you won't want to leave.