Band of the Day

2012.06.09

Jhameel

A young multi-instrumentalist's primal take on Michael Jackson and Prince style pop
The night is everything and nothing in the city of fog. I feel the cool of the breeze, I feel the coming of dawn.
lyrics from Bernal Heights

Jhameel is a 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Oakland, California. A talented multi-linguist, Jhameel was enrolled in the army's ROTC officer training program, but decided to abandon the program before signing a contract with the military, instead finishing a degree in Arabic from the University of Berkeley and pursuing a career in music. The son of a master violinist, Jhameel (which means beauty in Arabic) plays all the instruments on his records including drums, violin, trumpet, keyboard and guitar. He’s a self-styled pop artist and an acolyte of dance pop legends like Michael Jackson and Prince. He released his debut album in 2009 while still a student, and followed that up with 2011’s The Human Condition. Deciding to move away from the mix of pop and orchestral folk of his earlier work, Jhameel released the Dance EP in 2011 and Waves in 2012, both more dance floor oriented efforts.

According to his website, Jhameel sports linguistic prowess in Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and Russian in addition to his native English, and breezed through a degree at UC Berkeley in just two years. He plays all of the instruments on his releases, and is the son of a master violinist. All this leads you to the “G” word (genius), which could well be true, but Jhameel's music tends to be more carnal than brainy. Clearly a student of booty-shaking chart toppers from decades past, he's at his best channeling funky pop maestro's like Michael Jackson and Prince. This is a guy that calls himself a “pop artist” on Twitter and takes dance lessons to back up that claim, busting moves all over YouTube despite the tiny budgets he has to work with.

Still in his early 20s, Jhameel has been busy over the last couple of years. Since graduating from Berkeley, the Oakland, CA native has released one full length, The Human Condition (2011), and two EPs, Dance (2011) and Waves (2012). The Human Condition is an eclectic record that sees the multi-instrumentalist utilizing his talent with violin, guitar, percussion and even horns. It's often lushly orchestral, dancing between folk and percussive dance. While all is skillfully realized, The Human Condition shines brightest when Jhameel keeps things simple and muscular, conjuring almost primal dance numbers. His more orchestral folk-based tracks are pretty, but can edge too close to mushy at times (at least for this writer).

Standout track “Bernal Heights” is nice and simple, riding big, gritty drums and subtly dance-y keyboards. Jhameel double tracks his vocals, channeling his inner Justin Timberlake as he sings rhythmically over the prancing instrumentation. “The Human Condition” revisits those lo-fi street corner dance party drums, adding in funky lead guitar and peppy trumpets.

Jhameel wisely steered towards his more primal dance side on all his releases after The Human Condition. Dance EP features some excellent cuts like the ferocious “Shut Up.” Falling somewhere between Modest Mouse and the Bee Gees, the track kicks off with some pounding bass drum and a guitar/violin combo so close to legendary disco cut “Funkytown” that it nearly sounds like a sample. The core of the song's appeal is Jhameel's vocals though, he growls his way through his vocal take like a man pushed to his limits, accenting that aggression with some classic disco falsetto.

Jhameel's still in the early stages of his career, but he's already established himself as more than just a budding talent. He's able to translate his fascination with mainstream pop into a sound that manages to be smooth, aggressive and pretty all at the same time.