The long-awaited debut LP from Jamie xx sees the young producer straying beyond the melancholic sentimentality of his work with The xx, and joyously embracing the sorts of effervescent electronic music he has only flirted with in the past.
Ever since the opening sub bass rumble and explosively melodic beat of Islands on the self-titled xx debut, it has been clear that Jamie Smith is a unique talent.
As a result of his consistently outstanding efforts on subsequent xx projects, demand for solo work has increased exponentially since the debut xx album was released in 2009. Beginning with the 2011 collection of Gil Scott-Heron reworks We’re New Here, Smith has met this demand by releasing a string of fantastic singles, remixing everyone from Radiohead to Adele, and collaborating with Drake on the Rihanna-featuring title track from the rapper’s seminal 2011 album Take Care.
Smith’s debut solo LP In Colour ties together a few of the recent singles he has released on Young Turks, such as Girl and its b-side Sleep Sound, with a collection of new works (although notably absent is his still-great 2014 single All Under One Roof Raving). Most of the tracks here are instrumentals, and of course it is in this territory away from the cooing harmonies of his usual accompanists, Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim of The xx, that he meets his true test as a solo artist.
Tracks such as those presented together here will allay any doubt; Smith’s innovative talent is constantly evident, from the album-opening ominous bass sweep of the incredible Gosh, quickly followed by martial hand-claps that seem to announce the return of the king of electronic music in the UK, to the sublime arpeggiated steel drum melody on Obvs (something of a trademark instrument that Smith has wisely continued to use) which is layered and built upon masterfully. In fact, all of Smith’s sonic trademarks from both his work with The xx and his solo releases are present here too, and yet he has managed to pull off the enviable task of redefining himself creatively and sonically without losing the individuality he developed on former releases.
Smith’s xx bandmates do crop up on a few tracks here, albeit not at the same time. Oliver Sim appears on the album’s most lackluster track, Stranger in a Room, which sounds like an xx afterthought from a mediocre recording session, and which doesn’t remotely fit in thematically with the rest of In Colour, while Madley-Croft appears on the quiet and rhythmic Four Tet-assisted cut SeeSaw, which meanders along pleasantly enough without ever threatening to become a particularly memorable tune - disappointing, considering the talent at play here.
However, it is on his second collaboration with Madley-Croft, lead single Loud Places, and the record-highlight Young Thug and Popcaan collaboration I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), that the vocal tracks shine brightest. Loud Places is lyrically a sentimental and romantic meditation on wild nights past, full of clattering percussion and muffled kick drums that echo as though heard from the outside in, before unexpectedly and triumphantly exploding into a brilliant sample of Idris Muhammad’s 1977 disco classic Could Heaven Ever Be Like This? during the chorus. “I have never reached such heights/ I feel music in your eyes,” plays the vocal sample; somehow simultaneously forlorn and empowering, as Madley-Croft’s voice dies to little more than the whisper of an uncertain plea for affirmation.
As Loud Places fades out, Smith delivers a one-two punch lesson in outstanding sampling practices in the form of Good Times. The a cappella vocal melody taken from The Persuasion’s 1972 cut of the same name which opens the song is simply perfection; soulfully playing for only a moment before dramatically being cut off by those unmistakable steel drums and a fantastic dancehall vocal hook provided by one of the leading lights of that genre, Popcaan. And then the sample is back, forming the unlikely backbone of the song as it carries on, before the signature warble of Young Thug - a man whose voice seems to be the aural signature of 2015 itself - enters the equation and the track really reaches its apex. What on paper may have seemed bizarre and ill-advised is transcendental on wax. Surely destined to be one of the songs of this summer, Good Times is a truly wonderful and ecstatic piece of music: bubbly, funny, catchy, and infinitely repeatable.
One gets the impression that In Colour developed over the span of an extended period of time; perhaps the (presumably) more recent cuts such as Good Times and Loud Places became the deciding elements of the stylistic strengths of the record only after older tracks such as Stranger in a Room were cemented into the tracklist. It feels a shame that Smith hasn’t more fully embraced the unabashedly euphoric dance music that makes up the standout tracks; cuts such as the interlude Just Saying are ultimately unnecessary and don’t serve much purpose here. There is a fairly severe disparity in the success of the best and worst tracks; even the penultimate cut The Rest is Noise feels like it never delivers on its promise, and it lacks the emotional impact one feels it could have achieved.
With a singular knack for identifying the unique strength of each piece of music he creates and seemingly re-building each composition around that strength - re-crafting every other element to serve the defining hook - Jamie xx is a formidable producer and one who will undoubtedly go on to reach even greater heights than those this record grasps.
Smith has always worn his influences on his sleeve, and they are omnipresent here, too. From sonic allusions to early–2000s hip-hop production à la The Neptunes and Timbaland, to his frequently obvious tips of the hat to the house music he holds so dear, he is undoubtedly a polymath of modern music. Laced throughout with vocal samples from '90s rave culture documentaries, in its finest moments In Colour is a passionate and patriotic look at electronic music and club culture past and present; full of life, exciting, and emotionally intense like the best of The xx’s music and yet bubbling with a new and irreverent joy, In Colour certainly shows that things aren’t so black and white after all.
If you enjoyed this article, please support Innocuist by subscribing to our email newsletter. We are a small independent blog, and we would love to have you as a reader. Our emails are only sent out occasionally when new articles are published, so you'll never miss the latest posts.
Thank you for reading!