Now Hear This: Jhameel

Photograph by Marta Dymek

When San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Jhameel’s LP, The Human Condition, blipped onto my radar about a month ago, thanks to music blog RandumInk, I was a mere 30 seconds into “Bernal Heights” before I was smitten. The 20-something has a downright nasty talent for writing great lyrics and catchy melodies, many of which are inspired by the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and Sufjan Stevens. He produces his own songs with a combination of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, but above all, his breathy, poignant voice can instantly switch between whispered entreaties and effusive whooping. His carefully constructed lyrics troll the complexities of war, suspicion, loneliness, pride, and smokin’ dope.

Jhameel’s features are ethereal, androgynous even, and he admits that David Bowie and Prince are major style influences. “I think androgyny is underused by the entire male gender,” he says during a live UStream performance from his home in Oakland earlier this week. I’ve joined the webcast with about 70 other fans on a Monday night; we’re all submitting questions and comments via Twitter and Facebook, and watching him play acoustic guitar. The on-screen feed is mostly made up of emoticons: hearts, smiley faces, and more hearts, all with lots of encouragement and pleas to come to places like Wisconsin and Australia and Cleveland. And while we all see him, he can’t see us, and it makes him feel awkward, which he mentions several times. But he eventually warms up to his electronic crowd, playing a handful of his own songs as well as a couple of covers (“Heartbeats,” by The Knife and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” by Broken Social Scene, in case you were wondering). And after each song, the written praise and e-claps roll in — and it’s great to see such talent up close, even if it is through a computer screen.

In between songs, Jhameel fields a few questions. I learn that his favorite book is Ender’s Game; in an epic battle between dinosaurs and robots he thinks robots would definitely win; his father, a violin player, was in the musical Fame; he’s never heard of Jethro Tull or Type O Negative; and that he wasn’t wearing pants the whole time. Why don’t more musicians do this?!

With an upcoming gig at L.A.’s Viper Room as well as corporate giants Forever 21 and American Eagle having picked up his music for in-store playlists, I have no doubts Jhameel’s trajectory is permanently pointed skyward. And, lucky for you, the kid isn’t above sharing — listen to The Human Condition for free below:

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