May 3, 2013

Colin Small lives in a permanent 10 p.m.

Jai Paul, the UK’s most internet-famous bedroom project, has officially released two songs since his debut six years ago. We may not know anything about the guy other than that he has a luscious fauxhawk, but we can surmise from his sparse output that he’s most likely a perfectionist. And yet, we just can’t let the dude do his own thing, we have to steal his laptop and put out his album before it’s even fucking ready, rocketing his count from two songs to sixteen in one Saturday night.

Paul’s label, XL, called the leak “a collection of various unfinished recordings.” But it doesn’t take a whole lot of logical listening to figure out that what was uploaded to Bandcamp two weeks ago (and quickly removed) was a well-sequenced and painstakingly constructed album — “finished” or not. The eight entirely full and new songs included in the leak are just as complete in structure as “BTSTU” or “Jasmine” when they dropped. How Jai intends (or intended) to finish them is obvious to no one. So what is the poor dude left with now? If he wants to maintain the level of anonymous mystery that he has cloaked his movements in thus far, he might as well just make an entirely new album, because an official release of these same tracks with minor changes will be entirely anticlimactic in a pitiful, corporate way. I think I speak for most music fans when I say, Jai Paul, we are sorry.

The reality is that leak illustrated Jai Paul’s immense talent in the worst possible way for his career. The leak is an unfortunate marvel, immediately infectious, yet far too detailed to absorb at once. On the same weekend that the music world was, in regular form, getting excited over Daft Punk’s  new disco single/Cruel Summerish production porn, Jai Paul’s “Track 5” coasted quietly by in the center of the dense leak, a similarly retro song impregnated with enough artistic fury to blow “Get Lucky” away.

As a songwriter, he’s more conventional than you might expect after hearing a song like the structurally amorphous “BTSTU.” He channels Prince with a surprising consistency, but this familiarity is obliterated by unexpectedly penetrating details: a deep synth line that continually shakes the floor of a track, a rattling cowbell that echoes with a deft rhythm that boils the track’s sprawling beat structure to a few well selected jangles.

What will hopefully set Jai Paul apart from the herd as his career progresses is his rock-solid rhythmic hand. His songs patter constantly with rhythmic overlay: almost like Ghostface, who characteristically leaves the beat only to casually return bars later. Jai’s songs throb with an implied internal rhythm that is only plainly visable with a wide lens. But possibly his most exciting calling card is the way in which he can selectively implement this rhythmic undercurrent, dropping flashed samples, three note instrumental solos, or just plain silence into a segment that is moving to it’s own beat. These accents make for moments that are entirely surprising yet somehow totally appropriate.

I’m not entirely convinced that the distinctively “low” sound quality that has characterized all Jai Paul releases thus far, official or otherwise, isn’t intentional. It often sounds like the muffled lack of dynamism is moving with a rhythm of its own: a track chugs along and suddenly, as on the leak first devastating cut “Track 2”, a solo will blast from behind, engulfing the rest of the field almost entirely for a split second. Loud, percussive instrumentation, such as the hand claps on “BTSTU” or the buzzing synths on “Track 3”, utilize a similar effect, sounding almost painfully full and sharp because for the short moment that they are played, they are all that you hear.

All of this is to say that the leak has only served to illustrate Jai Paul’s immense artistic potential, painting him, even as his album is exposed to the internet against his control, as a masterfully selective and meticulous craftsman. We can only hope that the fickle methods of art and the desires of industry stay out of each others way to deliver one of the most exciting artists the indie world has seen in years.
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