Album Review: Jamie xx – In Colour

First published in The Ripe

He’s collaborated with the likes of Four Tet and Gil Scott-Heron, produced for Drake, remixed Florence Welch, and is a member of Mercury Prize-winning band, The xx. Jamie Smith, AKA, Jamie xx, may be only 26-years-old, but he’s already firmly asserted himself as one of the major players in the modern music scene, dipping his toes in a plethora of genres, sustaining his minimalist inclinations, and all while paying homage to the place he clearly calls home – the London club scene.

Jamie xx’s debut EP, In Colour, is a stunningly vivid 11-track album that explores the musical spectrum with restraint and skill. For a man who reportedly wears only black and works in an ostensibly minimalist studio, the album title, In Colour, seems almost at odds with the portrayals of Smith as an artist. In Colour is a veritable kaleidoscope of sounds that move from industrial steel pan melodies to bubbly Caribbean dancehall beats with precision on ease. Smith steadily introduces new sounds, uses repetition, and creates a smooth integration in each track, making it near impossible to detect a flaw in his production skills. Much like the album cover artwork, his music palate is fluid, vibrant, and expansive, and the listening experience requires full employment of all your senses.

The opening track, Gosh, sets the scene with a darker and more metallic electronic sound. Like the scuffling of feet on a dirty concrete club floor, the jilted notes eventually relax, and the track gradually eases into a more melodic tune as the lyrics say, “easy, easy”. It is tracks like Gosh that make it clear that Smith enjoys drawing inspiration from the modern sounds of the London clubbing scene. It also makes it clear that his album, while considered dance music, is not made for dancing per se. Rather, it’s made for the hours following the club – the winding down portion of the night when your senses are keen but your mind is weary.

The second track on the album, Sleep Sound, is not necessarily sleep inducing, but melds gentler notes with deeper, darker clubbing sounds. The enchanting rhythm fades in and out of focus and lulls the listener to a state of serenity. It’s the background music for when you’ve still got enough vigor to be awake, but your legs and body have retired for the night.

Seesaw was produced in collaboration of Smith’s long-standing musical ally, Four Tet, and the minimalist elements we’ve come to expect from both artists shine through in this track. It picks up the tempo from previous song, Sleep Sounds, but utilizes restraint and navigates away from a full-blown crescendo.

The fourth track on the album, Obvs, is also one of my favourites, and Smith somehow manages to marry the two unlikeliest of sounds – tropical melodies with industrial minimalism. In an interview with Pitchfork, Smith elaborates on his fascination with steel drums in his musical production. “You can make it sound quite melancholy,” he says. “But at the same time, it reminds me of paradise.” As I listen to this track, I’m unsure of whether I feel as though I’m lying on a warm beach in the tropics, or in my lounge room at 6am after a night on the town. But it is contradictory elements such as these that make Smith’s album complex and daring, and require from the listener something more than passive intake.

Like waves crashing through an abandoned shipping container, Just Saying cleanses the palate mid-way through the album. It is beautiful in its restraint, like the white noise of ocean spray, or the murmuring buzz in your eardrums when you’ve left the pounding club and venture home. Tracks like Just Saying make it abundantly clear that Smith fully understands the experience of being young and involved in the urban musical scenes. He is writing from direct experience, utilising his youth and active involvement to connect listeners through a mutual appreciation.

Strangers in a Room features fellow The xx band member, Oliver Sim, and his mournful vocals trail over the minimalist notes beautifully. Changing tact again, Hold Tight brings the album’s atmosphere back to the club. It is shadowy, layered, and punctuated by rotating metallic beats. Hold Tight is again minimalist, but sways with movement, and the undulations are timed perfectly.

Again featuring The xx band member, Loud Places uses the stunning vocals of Romy Madley Croft. This tracks sounds almost like a clubbing anthem, with choral singing “I have never reached such heights”. It’s cheery and uplifting – exactly the music you want to hear after spending the entire evening dancing. Continuing the uplifting sounds is the ninth track on the album, I Know There’s Gonna be (Good Times), featuring Young Thug and Popcaan. On first listen it might seem like this track is an outlier on the album, with the RnB and dancehall beats incongruous with electro. It manages to fit right in, however, and it refreshing and fun while showcasing Smith’s expansive musical repertoire.

The final track, Girl, sounds as intergalactic and spatial as the visuals in the film clip. The cyclic rotation of undecipherable vocals and beats brings the album to a culmination point that is wholly satisfying.

Smith’s In Colour takes the London clubbing experience and makes it something human, giving it a heartbeat and a pulse as it becomes awash with colour and vibrancy. At times melancholic and others uplifting, In Colour is in many ways a musical equivalent of the experience of being a young, urban-dwelling club-goer. It’s the constant oscillation between elation and sadness, between exhaustion and energized, and the supreme if ephemeral beauty of forgetting the world outside as you dance or sway or wind down after a night out. It may all happen under the cloak of darkness, but as anyone who has enjoyed their clubbing experience will tell you, when you look back on memories from a night out, every detail is resplendent in colour. And Jamie xx may know this best of all.

 

 

 

 

 

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