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Monday, June 20, 2011

Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting: B / Katy B - On a Mission: B+

If you want a near guarantee that a song will be terrible, all you need to do is look for this two word suffix: “dubstep remix”. It’s become a trend now to take any sound, whether it be Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” or Justin Bieber being shot on CSI, and turn it into a cacophony of skrees and wonky bass. And it’s become a pretty popular trend. Over the past year, it would appear that the harsh stylings of dubstep have finally found their calling in the mainstream through jokey caricatures of the genre’s worst qualities.

Which is why some people missed the mark when they said that Jamie Woon’s Mirrorwriting and Katy B’s On a Mission were harbingers of the streamlining of dubstep for public consumption. These two albums, both released on the same day, have been compared to James Blake’s self-titled album as releases that are signs of the emergence of dubstep from the underground to the mainstream. However, it seems that the dubstep that has become popular now is dubstep itself, albeit an obnoxiously derivative version of it. People enjoy the genre without needing to water it down as occurs on Mirrorwriting, On a Mission, and James Blake (although they are still enjoyable to varying degrees). Now, it seems such heated debates that took place in the beginning of the year have been rendered a little bit moot.

Also, I would argue that Mirrorwriting and On A Mission don’t borrow much from dubstep. Jamie Woon sings strictly R&B, and his style is more akin to New Jack Swing or Timbaland’s work with Justin Timberlake than anything else. He slinks along on tactile beats with a seductive English swagger, smoothly moving from track to track like a boogie down vagabond. The man shows himself to be a distinct and alluring personality on Mirrorwriting, so it’s a shame that he relies so much on it that the album runs out of steam by its second half. With minimally catchy hooks to grasp onto, Woon begins to stall, and, when the album ends, you may rightfully only remember the singles. Some dubstep-y bass would probably aid Mirrorwriting, as Woon only gets away with so much on character alone.

If Jamie Woon’s the guy swooning in the streets, then Katy B’s flirtations aren’t occurring anywhere but the club. On A Mission never once stops to take a breath as Katy B shimmies on pulsating beats with great aplomb. But even here, her dubstep influences are a bit of a stretch. The slow lurch of “Go Away” and single “Easy Please Me” opens both songs up for such comparisons, but they pretty much end there. Realistically, Katy B has a little bit of Rihanna in her and perhaps a lesser Beyonce. But playing influences becomes boring in comparison to just dancing your ass off, because On A Mission does a great job of throwing down. B may be a bit of an awkward lyricist at times, and her voice may be a tad too ordinary, but On A Mission is a well-made dance album that deserves to top the UK charts.

Although it would be nice to imagine Jamie Woon and Katy B being the Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi sitting on opposite sides of James Blake’s Barack Obama, these three artists are not so cut and dry as to be the Holy Trinity of the dilution of dubstep. If you want to talk about the cheapening of the genre, take it up with the people who are characterizing it as an orgy of mindless skonks. Although they do share some sounds to dubstep, I wouldn’t be ready to characterize the three artists as genre piggybackers. They have all made good albums, and they make for an excellent soundtrack to my trip from the bedroom (James Blake), to the streets (Jamie Woon), to the club (Katy B) and back.


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