Music Reviews
In Colour

Jamie XX In Colour

(Young Turks) Rating - 9/10

If there’s one element that reflects the development of Jamie xx’s musical career, it may well be his album artwork. Both of the covers for his albums with The xx can be described with the same adjectives always applied to the band’s music- minimal, evocative, sleek. They both strike a delicate balance between two elements (black and white in the first, oil and water in the second) that mirrors the boy-girl dynamic of their songs. His first major release outside The xx, the Gil Scott-Heron remix album We’re New Here, found an unlikely harmony between green and pink on its cover, as did Scott-Heron’s jazz-blues and Jamie’s electronic background. It makes sense, then, that the music within the producer's (real name: Jamie Smith) solo debut reflects how it looks on the outside: gorgeous, kaleidoscopic, vibrant, largely familiar yet unequivocally unique. In Colour is one of the best albums of 2015 and one of the best dance albums in recent memory, simultaneously a moving homage to London rave culture and a realization of the potential of one of the most exciting and original minds in music today.

The most distinctive contribution Jamie xx made as the producer of The xx was probably the band’s renowned minimalism, and while In Colour could be described as minimalist, it’s more in construction than in sound. The album sounds bright and full-bodied, with its minimalism coming in the sense that every element feels essential to its song, without any of the ostentatious beat drops or obvious chord changes that dominate dance music today. Smith is an expert at using the cumulative build of loops, with the pleasures largely coming in the subtle shifts he makes to them once they’ve been repeated almost to the point of staleness, like the guitar line that comes in during the second half of Loud Places. Other songs, like Sleep Sound and The Rest Is Noise, interrupt their established rhythms for gorgeous interludes that are completely unexpected without being out of place. 

The album opens with drum and bass stylings of Gosh, which choppily loops urgent percussion and a vocal sample of a man exclaiming “Oh my gosh,” like it’s the only thing he can say upon walking into the best rave he’s ever been to. It’s a sensation that listener shares once the huge synth line in the second half of the song comes in, reaching an electrifying critical mass by the end. The album is restlessly varied, with Smith trying his hand at seemingly every kind of electronic style, tempo or looping technique he can dream of. One of its greatest strengths is in keeping a strong sense of cohesion while taking inspiration from dance, tropicália, R&B, and indie pop, among other things. Sleep Sound sounds like the echoes of dance music bouncing off the club walls, while Seesaw rushes past in a drunken delirium. The delightful “Obvs,” continues Smith’s apparent mission of making steel drums a staple of electronica, and “Stranger In a Room” sounds like an xx track intertwined with a bubbling synth track. It all builds to Loud Places, featuring Smith’s bandmate Romy, where a soulful chorus bursts through the delicate keyboards and vocals at a moment of transcendent magic. The album’s sharpest left turn comes with I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), a track that melds classic R&B with the contributions of rapper Young Thug and dancehall singer Popcaan. It’s impossible to imagine Smith saying something like “She gon’ get on top of this dick / And she gon’ squish it like squish” ever, let alone on record, but the strength of the song and the joyful atmosphere of the album leading up to it leaves us ready to follow it in any direction. The music doesn’t incorporate all of these elements simply to indulge Smith’s musical fantasies, however; they all contribute to the album’s bright, summery atmosphere. More importantly, they serve the album’s purpose as an homage to dance music that makes its tribute by refracting nostalgia for rave culture through these disparate styles. The result is something that can both place you within a sublime moment of youthful exuberance from the past and thrill you for the direction of electronic music in the future.

Much of the press leading up to the release of In Colour has focused on Smith’s reputation for shyness, often trying to reconcile it with his love of the inherently extroverted genre of dance music. He’s usually painted as the kid standing quietly in the corner of the club, fascinated by the music and the people dancing to it in part because he wouldn’t dream of joining them. Indeed, the ambient noises and spoken samples seemingly taken straight from London clubs that pepper the album suggest someone attuned to the individuals within the nameless dance floor hordes, someone who finds a deeper meaning in an ecstasy-fueled night of raving. It often seems like club music for kids who don’t like going to clubs, who can’t imagine how everyone else can collectively lose their minds to the music without a shred of self-awareness.

But that’s ultimately a reductive way of looking at the album, as it undercuts the confidence and sheer joy that Smith has crafted his music with. The record finds a perfect balance between being a statement on rave culture itself and reveling in sincere, in-the-moment exhilaration and emotion. It’s a line that James Murphy walked with LCD Soundsystem, but his approach was fundamentally different. Where Murphy might launch into a verbose, cuttingly comic exploration of how we use music and party culture as a means to reclaim youth, In Colour says all it needs to in the evocative snippet at the end of Seesaw, where all the words a club-goer can muster are “I just… The world just…”. To Jamie xx, that’s what dance music truly means - being lost to the thrill of the night, and to the possibilities of the music.