Jamie Treays often gets compared, off hand, to Mike Skinner; it’s not apt, but it’s helpful, for our sakes. Treays — a sweet-natured twenty-one-year-old from southwest London who self-produced his bedroom-pop debut, Panic Prevention — makes excitable, sometimes-reggae-inflicted music, which he writes, idiosyncratically, on an acoustic bass guitar. His primary instrument, however, is his voice; a cockney warble flow, it’s a strange, alluring tack, one that — while often crammed to the brim with choppy, inscrutable phrasings (“Have a twos on a cigarette/ young sons mozy it happily/ learn facts on the soviets” — has more in line with the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn’s verbose talk-sing chatter than with Skinner’s bogged down (but ultimately traditional) rap flow.
What all three have in common is that their songs are populated by characters. This is also where Finn and Skinner leave young Jaime T choking down dust. Whatever you made of the actual product that was the Streets’ The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (2006), you had to respect it’s conception; Skinner had gotten extremely famous in his native England during the recording of the album, and he reflected his experiences in the tracks instead of devolving into a false pretense of his former everyman charmer. And Finn’s stable of miscreants has always been full of extrapolated versions of the bad-idea kids he drank with under bridges back in the Twin Cities. But Treays’s characters are, for the most part, fictitious, like the various abusing and abused folks that litter the infectious single, “Sheila.” They’re conveyed with a certain amount of gusto but come off as stock, derived from “social ill” standards and metro-section headlines. In that he recalls another young Londoner who draws Skinner comparisons: the rapper Plan B. Both like to talk of troubled characters they suggest no realistic empathy with.
But unlike Plan B, Jamie T’s a near phenomenon back home, and it’s not hard to understand why. He knows his way around a bright shiny hook. So the warble flow draws you in, before the content fails you; it’s those choruses that drag you back in once again. The meat of the album, from “Salvador” to “Sheila,” is undeniable in a fulfilling-pop-quotient way. One turn of the phrase after another so breezily crafted and tossed off you’ll swear you’ve heard them before. But it’s not enough to sustain interest. The dead spaces in between just feel flatter in comparison, and those same hooks end up feeling disposable. It’s a sharp, quick-burn of an attraction.