Over the last few days, certain parts of the internet have been very excited about the leak/release of a new album by the UK-based songwriter and producer Jai Paul. Of the many folks posting about it on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, perhaps the most excited was Alex Honnet, a local performer and one of the proprietors of the Upstairs Gallery.
I was unfamiliar with Paul before this sudden whirlwind of buzz surrounding the album's strange release, so I asked Alex to put together a piece explaining his relationship with Jai Paul and the unusual and still unfolding saga of his debut album's leak. Alex can be seen performing at iO with Bass Mountain, The Playground with The Grrr, or everywhere with Pizza Party.
In September 2010 I heard Jai Paul's song "BTSU."
This track was like nothing else I was hearing, and in my office day job pulling reports, working with spread sheets and sending emails, I had a LOT of time to listen to music on the internet. It was so contemporary and cool with all kinds of space, slithering synths, sparse drums, a steady and slow build with just a hint of menace. It was sexy and patient, but immediate. It was exactly what i was looking for.
But in my search for more music and more information I came up with nothing. It was impossible to find anything about this guy. He was from London, he was some kind of bedroom producing virtuoso and that was it. In a time when I could download the entire discography of Tom Petty in 30 minutes and gorge on almost any artist or genre to my hearts content this felt impossible. How was there not more?
It's been that way ever since. Jai Paul news crops up sporadically throughout the years. We heard unconfirmed demo bits on Youtube, a remix, find out he's singed to XL Recordings and released a higher quality version of "BTSU". Drake used it for a beat. But that's it. We're left with the promise of that initial song, but we get nothing substantial and no more info on this elusive "might-be" genius.
In an experience echoed for thousands of people around the world we were devouring whatever crumbs we can from this shadowy figure.
And it's this gorgeous soft whisper with a pulsating beat and more of that filtered guitar licks coming in and out over it. It's another amazing track. All darkness and space and sex. We're intrigued but we want MORE.
We don't get it. We're back to nothing again. He produces a song on Big Boi's new album. But otherwise nothing.
What? I literally walked away in the middle of the conversation I was having and ran to a computer. It couldn't be true? How did I miss this?
I Google Jai Paul, and sure enough there were tons of articles pointing towards a Bandcamp page done up with Jai's image. I paid the 7 pounds and downloaded the album. After an intro track I was greeted with this:
And honestly I started to tear up. Here was Jai Paul's sound fully realized in a context I had never heard before. An upbeat pop song combining all sorts of drums, more of that funky guitar, a Bollywood sample? Huge drums, Jai's signature hazy vocals and falsetto? It's all there. This song fucking BUMPS. It was like gorging on a food I had given up even tasting. All the components that we were sure pointed towards a new musical talent coalesced into exactly what we were hoping. An album of fantastic music. Nothing on the album disappoints. It's all great. Faith rewarded, an easy pick for my album of the year from someone I had been waiting so long to deliver. In an era of leaks and instant access it was overwhelming to finally hear this thing I had been waiting so long for.
After that initial euphoria wears off though there were lots of questions. Some of the albums best ideas are trapped in these short tracks the feel almost like demos. There are no track names. Each track's sound quality is wildly different. This sounds like a collection of demos, not a fully formed record. I'm not complaining. This guy hasn't ever operated in a way that makes sense to me. But what gives?
Then news starts to trickle out that this is not an official release, that Jai had his laptop stolen and someone had uploaded his entire album to bandcamp without his permission. Crack in the Road has the details of the controversy here.
We're left with conflicting views. This could very easily be a publicity stunt to further the mystery of Jai Paul. But if it's not, is it okay for me to like this album of demos that Jai never meant to see the light of day?
I'm beyond conflicted about this. But luckily, the context that I put this album in can be an afterthought. Jai Paul is the real deal and we've got an albums worth of music to prove it.