“As the Bandcamp refunds begin to trickle in, not much is clear about how these songs went public or how long we’ll have to wait before we hear Jai Paul’s proper debut. But there is one thing that pretty much everyone who shelled out the £7 cannot shake: these tracks— brimming with ideas, innovation, and eccentric personality— are jaw-droppingly good.
Listening to a Jai Paul song sounds like a tuning into a pirate radio station being broadcast directly from someone’s brain. Unexpected sounds interrupt like interference from the next stop on the dial, and the vocals and instruments fade in and out like you’re one town over from where the signal comes in clear. Occasionally, a Jai Paul song can also sound like a live DJ set— kinetic, free-flowing, and a little off-the-cuff. But you often get the feeling that you are the only person listening to this radio station, or the only person at this club. That’s probably the most interesting contradiction at the heart of Jai Paul’s music: It’s at once distant, unknowable, and somehow feverishly intimate.
Moving from an airy falsetto to a lower, slightly menacing coo, Jai’s vocals are nimble— but his most distinct voice is his production style, which might seem like a strange thing to say about a collection of unmastered demos. But innovation shines through their rough edges. Jai agilely deploys a unique vocabulary of pauses, crossfades, and eclectic samples; J Dilla’s Donuts, the Avalanches’ Since I Left You, and Rustie’s Essential Mix all feel like aesthetic touchstones— music that’s managed to edit the modern world’s unending flow of information and voice into something cohesive and rhythmic. Still, all of those other records have a collective feel, like they’re tapping into the soundtrack of a universal subconscious. What sets these songs apart is that you are always aware that there’s a single human being at the center, one who oscillates between being forthcoming and shy, leaning close and then vanishing. This lends the illusion that his tracks themselves are inhaling and exhaling— breathing symphonies of digital noise.
I’ve talked to people who feel guilty listening to these songs, or critics who aren’t quite sure how to evaluate them. Are these demos or could they actually be the completed product? (Remember: both of Jai’s official singles had an intriguingly “unfinished” quality about them.) Does the leak, if you could even call it that, help or hurt our chances of hearing Jai Paul’s proper debut within the year (or the decade…)? Did he ever want us to hear this material? Are we dishonoring him by listening to it, by loving it? If the music moves us in a way that nothing else has this year, should it matter”
I’ve been wondering all of these same things myself.