Sunday, November 05, 2006

SONG: "Sea Green, See Blue" - Jaymay (Sea Green, See Blue, 2006)

Jaymay is a currently little-known singer-songwriter based in New York who, according to her online biog, started out playing local open-mic nights and quickly found a captive audience around the city. The U.S. being so vast, and its network of major & independent record labels so complex, it’s difficult to gauge how much attention she’s getting from the industry when you’re stuck across the pond scanning a Myspace page you stumbled upon by chance – but you can bet your ass it isn’t half the recognition she deserves.

Before enduring the hassle of getting her EP imported from the States, I happened to check eBay to see if anyone was selling it on these shores and was more than a little surprised to find some short-sighted buffoon flogging it for a Buy-It Now price of just £2. “Unwanted gift”, the item description rather callously read - had they bothered to look more carefully though (not to mention actually listened to the thing), they might’ve noticed just what a treasure it was they were selling, since it also happens to be personally signed…

Produced with an ear for improvisational nuance which recalls the likes of Nizlopi, Damien Rice and the low-key atmosphere of the East Coast bars where she honed her craft, the first thing that strikes you is the remarkable warmth and homeliness that her music evokes. Jaymay’s world is one of kites being flown on beaches, of lying next to someone gazing up at a clear blue sky and watching the vapour trails fade from a passing aircraft. She sounds almost bemused to find herself feeling the kind of sensations she sings about, as if experiencing the simultaneous confusion and euphoria of adolescent love for the first time. Her voice is effortless but bursting with character; her songs shuffle along with an ambling grace, twinkling with occasional xylophones and anchored by a lumbering double-bass. On one track you can even hear bottles being blown beneath the modest instrumentation.

Each of the five songs on her debut EP has its own distinctive feel and flavour, ranging from gentle lullaby (Corduroy) to languid, waltzing jazz (Snow White – which, as coincidence would have it, bears a slight resemblance to one of my own songs, Sweetheart Maybe – a deliberate attempt on my part to write a Brenda Lee-style late-50s pitter-pat torch ballad. It never really suited Cause of Accident, but if Jaymay ever fancies having a crack at it she’s more than welcome…)

However, there are two tracks in particular on here which hit the spot as previously only a Big Kahuna Burger & Sprite could. The first, Gray or Blue, is a rambling, ever-so-slightly off-key ukulele-led affair which sounds like Jenny Lewis performing one of the Marimba-based tracks from the last White Stripes album. Its lyrics are achingly, desperately sweet, spinning out the kind of bashful sentiments that you just wish someone would write about you while they sit gazing longingly from across the room: “I know the shape of your hands, ’cos I watch them when you talk / I know the shape of your body, ’cos I watch it when you walk…”

The real zinger though is the title track, an affectionate but reflective tale of a love curtailed by circumstance which gradually swirls out from inside a down-turning, countrified chord sequence with a wide-eyed innocence that evokes images of someone sat aimlessly watching the world drift by from a railway bench. Underscored by a beautifully restrained string arrangement which never overwhelms the dreamy intermingling of memory and regret, there is an almost conversational style to her writing (“You dreamed you’d make movies, you’d dance; you moved to Montreal to be closer to France / How’s that working out? How’s the music? How’s the food?”) which, when combined with the song’s indolent structure, gives the impression of a wide-eyed, sad-happy girl alone with her thoughts.

Its title perfectly sums up the mood of the entire EP by suggesting a tearful romanticism infused with an acute eye for kooky poetry; the song’s themes of self-sacrifice (“This is crazy, but I know I left you to be with your art / You always put me first, and somehow that broke my heart”) are never less than utterly heart-wrenching and bring to mind the equally affecting Your Sweet Voice by Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody’s side-project The Reindeer Section. The song has no discernible chorus as such, just a lilting melody-line which she hums wistfully over and over while the strings build to a gently melancholic crescendo.

Whoever sold me this record for a few quid is an utter fool. I’ve never met Jaymay, and probably never will; however, on the basis of these five quietly yearning gems I can honestly say without thought or hesitation that I would marry her in an instant. Her music invokes the hopeful innocence of a child’s unsullied and uncomplicated naiveté, communicating the purest of intentions through the simplest of sentiments. Sea Green, See Blue is exactly what being in love sounds like.