Referring to Dornik Leigh's first album simply as promising would be downplaying it. It's a rare debut liable to provoke a mix of admiration and envy from contemporaries, and quite possibly a lengthy queue of prospective collaborators. One peer pleased to uplift Dornik was Jessie Ware, who employed the South London native as a performing drummer and duet partner, then helped him join the PMR roster.
Dornik may have been hailed as the UK’s answer to Miguel, but the delays and protracted recording sessions for his debut album hint at D’Angelo levels of perfectionism. Initially shared online in 2013, the featherlight pulse of Something About You is joined here by nine other meticulously crafted electro-soul songs that reveal themselves slowly and deliberately. So while the album is bookended by its two most upbeat moments – the 80s-era-Prince-like Strong and On My Mind’s splashy funk, respectively – the rest settles into a mid-pace groove that suits Dornik’s delicate vocal, specifically the lilting Michael Jackson-isms of Shadow and the gorgeous Chain Smoke.
Dornik hasn’t done half bad for someone who started out drumming in singer Jessie Ware’s band and seemed unlikely to find success in his own right. In the two years since he released single Something About You, the singer and producer has joined Ware on slick, forward-thinking label PMR and picked up comparisons to Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weeknd. Like them, he makes shimmery pop inflected with elements of R&B and heavily indebted to a breathy, 1980s Michael Jackson vocal style.
Jessie Ware might seem an unlikely tastemaker: an artist who exemplifies hushed, unshowy restraint, unassuming craft over buzz. So it only makes sense that the colleagues she has attracted work in a similarly low key. Her labelmates on PMR Records include producer Julio Bashmore, who’s quietly become an innovator in a genre full of professional Xeroxers; Jai Paul, who’s known for compelling music that’s barely released; and Dornik Leigh, Ware’s tour drummer, who’s since embarked on a solo career as languidly paced as his music.
If you’re already a fan of Dornik’s shiny brand of nu soul, then you have Jessie Ware to thank - if you believe the Dornik press release, that is: 'Singer, songwriter, and producer Dornik never went after the spotlight, but the spotlight found him anyway. It was while on tour playing drums for Jessie Ware that she heard his demos, and immediately knew he’d be right at home alongside her on PMR [Disclosure, Julio Bashmore]. If it wasn’t for her, the world might never have stumbled across this hidden gem.