People’s opinions of music are often shaped more by the band’s status, fan-base and image than the music itself; there are an increasing number of artists emerging anonymously to let their songs be the centre of attention – Burial pulled this off impressively, as did Rhye recently, whose singer was comically mistaken for a woman. Jai Paul is an odd case, however. In the three years preceding 2013 he had released only two songs, both outstanding, and little of his personal information. This secrecy led to many becoming obsessed, a case of music initiating the cult following but an enigmatic image goading it on. When sixteen untitled tracks appeared for download on Bandcamp, it was rumoured to be his long-awaited debut album and few could resist (perfectly understandable considering this increased his catalogue of music by 800%), with many taking to the irritating habit of proclaiming it album of the year.
Of course, it being Jai Paul, it was later declared to be a set of leaked demos, illegally uploaded, and not his debut. But people stuck to their claims that it is some of the best music of 2013, just adding “even though it’s a selection of demos”. Was this a case of people genuinely impressed by the music or stubbornly worshipping Jai Paul’s cult-like status, not wanting to have been tricked into adoring a set of average demos?
When the tracks were originally uploaded to Bandcamp, I was amongst those who knew and appreciated “Jasmine” and “BTSTU” but didn’t view him as a cult hero; I didn’t download the album and (bad internet connection) couldn’t stream it. I first heard it after it had been declared unofficial as I was intrigued by the above question. The simple truth is that the praise was justified: it is a spectacular collection of songs, benefiting from some of its perhaps unfinished elements which give it diversity within a surprisingly coherent whole. It plays like a perfect mixtape, balancing extraordinary pop-songs (“Str8 Outta Mumbai” immediately rises to the ranks of his first two singles) with unexpected covers (Jennifer Paige’s “Crush”), bizarre interludes (“The skin was always my favourite part anyway, quite chewy but very terrible”) and an unquestionable sense of mystery. The emotional range is staggering too, his vulnerability even more poignant within such assured song-writing – “In the company of wolves, will I make it through the night? If I stay with you I might”. On top of all this, Jai Paul maintains his unique, unpredictably fluctuating production, something impressive at a time when people are struggling for new sounds.
It is still unclear whether this was a publicity stunt, and if so, who initiated it. But at this stage, few people should be too concerned about the technicalities, as it has brought to their ears something special.