Review: Jamie Isaac adds life to his nuanced sound at Popscene

Jamie Isaac

Photos: Alessio Neri

SAN FRANCISCO — London is currently on the cutting edge of electronic music. Whether it’s hip-hop with a dash of grime, satires of mainstream commercial electronic with bombastic production, or alternative R&B combined with the improvisation and looseness of jazz and minimalist electronic production. Jamie Isaac‘s music is the latter.

Isaac isn’t just following a trend, though. He’s a young musician with a concept for a unique sound and has been running with it ever since releasing his EPs. Now, he has a full-length album to his name, Couch Baby, which is what he mostly played Friday at Popscene.

Isaac walked onto the Popscene stage, drink in hand and performed a 30-minute headlining set with a series of detailed, nuanced tracks like “Beauty,” “Know You Like Me” and “Last Trip.” He also covered “Unthinkable” by Alicia Keys.

Couch Baby has received comparisons to King Krule’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, but that’s probably because Jamie Isaac and Archie Marshall used to live together and collaborate. Their styles are very different.

As where they do share some common influences, King Krule’s music centers around the singer-songwriter aspect with a post-punk spine, lining art pop within the notches; and Isaac creates a swirl of sounds while maintaining composure to the music.

Imagine a down-tempo beat, sounding like it came straight from a Massive Attack or Portishead record, layered with post-bop piano, unique drum fills and sounds and added synthpop and minimalwave production with the great and mood-centric vocals you’d expect from a British R&B singer like Sam Smith. Now imagine this music was played perfectly live.

This element was the most surprising about the live performance, even for those who heard the songs on record.

Isaac managed to fit so many dynamics in such a quiet sonic spectrum. He went through songs, mostly at the same volume and tempo, but created massive dynamics by using the articulate emotion in his voice and the addition or subtraction of subtle instrumentation. On his recordings, it’s sometimes hard to notice some of the details. Friday, the nuances came through clearly.

Oakland’s Bells Atlas opened the night with a funky bass and drum songs. The group’s dynamic sound entertained the audience from the beginning. Their last-minute appearance may be no coincidence. This is their third time playing at Rickshaw in a month, and the band jokingly calling it a residence.

Photographer Alessio Neri contributed to this report. Follow writer Michael Massaro at Follow Neri at and

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