Jamie Woon’sMaking Time is, by its own set of standards, a huge success. Three plus years in the making, and, by all accounts, toiled over ad nauseum until Woon felt he had gotten it right, the record is very clear about it’s going for: It doesn’t try to be too flashy. It doesn’t overdo it with the production. In most senses, it is an attempt to be a small record, within a backdoor UK singer-songwriter genre that defines itself in opposition to the largesse of the club scene. (And happens to consist almost exclusively of (go figure) former giants of that scene.) As a tactic, Woon plays it stoic across the 10 tracks of mellow soul. In “Small Wonder”, Woon sings of a “path of no resistance”, which functions well as a mission statement. Throughout, there is a total avoidance of “digging in”: there is no noticeable frying of audio circuitry; no excessive glottal friction; no furrowed brow or clenched stomach. You know, a soul record.
Ultimately, Making Time doesn’t alter the formula much from 2011’s Mirrorwriting. But he certainly succeeds at refining his approach. Citing D’Angelo as a core reference (cue Chinese national ballet holding up a sea of Red Flags), Woon set out to make a record with producer Jaxx (of Wild Beasts) that was done mostly live and with minimal instrumentation. When combined with Woon’s dubstep pedigree, this yields a feel that is hard to categorize. On the surface, it’s one of vulnerable intimacy. And yet for all its attempts to come across as a wooden, singer-songwriter record — or a groovy, in-the-pocket soul record — it has difficulty shaking the metallic. The attempt at analog realness sometimes feels at odds with the sense that these are still machine-like UK garage rhythms. Which begs the question: would we want to hear a D’Angelo without the analog warmth, dragging rhythm, or gut-wrenching vocal performance?
Well, perhaps. If the emphasis of this brand of lounge-pop is on songwriting, Making Time again succeeds at clearly achieving its own goals. There are a few good songs here that make it all feel worth it. Each song is filled with pleasant, mystical lyrics, and some — like “Celebration” or “Dedication” — have some attractive hooks. And almost across the board, the lyrics stay true to the patient undercurrent of the record. In opening track, “Message”, he recounts a sense of detachment from the passing of time: “Waiting for the grass to grow / But if you look up and you stop / The later you wait you’re missing the waterfall.” On “Little Wonder”, he shares some similarly self-possessed wisdom: “If we go on the wind / be around for a friend / Putting down what we know / We can rest, we can grow.”
Perhaps this binary of “resting and growing” best gets at the vibe of this record and helps define whom the record might best appeal to. Jamie Woon seems to honestly prefer the slow observation of growth to the harsh, quick mistakes of an unobserved life. And yet, in the process he seems to prove the point: a watched pot never really boils.