ALBUM: Jamie xx ‘In Colour’


Jamie xx has been teasing the world with a drip-feed of individual tracks over the last few years, and having fingers in so many pies, it’s no surprise that tracks have been served up here and there as opposed to in a full LP. Now, after three years in the making, we get the full length that has been hotly anticipated since his rework of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘I’m New Here’.

Since the release of that record, Jamie xx has been slowly taking over the music world; producing A-list R’n’B artists, playing acclaimed DJ sets and dramatically remixing artists such as Adele, not to mention playing in a band that some of you may have heard of. On In Colour, the breadth of experiences and influences that have become part of Jamie xx’s musical life are distilled down into an 11 track album that feels like a curation of significant moments, as much as a journey through an eclectic yet tightly connected record collection.

Opening track ‘Gosh’ is minimal and epic, and a tribute to the UK dance scene that it feels is Jamie xx’s first musical love. Heavy bass and harsh beats are spun-out and slowed down giving the track the feel of a rave at half speed. It’s tinged with nostalgia, and the homesickness that apparently impinges on Jamie xx’s international life. But it’s a positive memory and as the synth line comes in we can understand why ‘Gosh’ is the opener for the album; it’s a touch-point in that place called home.

‘Sleep Sound’ however swifly sweeps us out of the blurry memories of ‘Gosh’ with a flourish of plucking synths. This is breakbeat like never before, it’s considered and melancholic and the tripping of the snare feels like something trying to find it’s rightful place and the synths and samples mesh together into an expanse of warmth. ‘Sleep Sound’ sounds both like the intimate workings of the mind and a wide open space. It’s a dichotomy that runs through the album; Jamie xx has a seemingly unique ability to make music that sounds intimate, personal and full of depth whilst simultaneously sounding like the soundtrack to summer parties and those unexpected nights where you lose yourself in the main room.

‘SeeSaw’ is another prime example, aided effortlessly by charicteristically emotive vocals from xx bandmate Romy, this is the first time on the album we get a subtle flavour of the steel-drum synth sound that Jamie xx has used so effectively in many places previously. The subtlety subsides at the beginning of ‘Obvs’, and the steely sound chimes out, however, melodically it is challenging and slightly, yet purposefully, out of kilter. ‘Obvs’ brings us back to the outset, with minimal beats and deep bass complimented by a deliciously pure guitar line, again this is summer, but it has the slow nostalgia of ‘Gosh’ and feels like it pulls together the tracks we’ve heard to this point.

It’s no surprise at this point that ‘Just Saying’ brings us right back down; more of an interlude than a track it provides breathing space and a moment of pause. This moment of calm gives way to tension as solo arpeggiated synths ring the opening of ‘Stranger In A Room’. More able vocal assistance from bandmate Oliver Sim take the song swiftly away from potential trance anthem to tense, thoughtful slow-build; despite the moving synths there is a stillness in the track that doesn’t feature on much of the rest of the album, giving it extra weight.

‘Hold Tight’ picks us out of the still trance and throws obstinant synths and samples at us, like a slap in the face from Burial to remind us that we shouldn’t get comfortable. The synths fizz along unflinching, pulling at you and gently battering and rapping at your brain. ‘Hold Tight’ is an approriate title, as the track requires the listen to stick to their guns and fight back trying to make sense of the array of sonic battery, but when the dust settles on ‘Hold Tight’ we get the moment of the album. ‘Loud Places’ feels like the warmth of summer coming after a cold, harsh winter. Vocals again provided by Romy come together with Idris Muhammed’s ‘Could Heaven Ever Feel Like This?’ combining in a blissful union. ‘Loud Places’ is optimistic, ecstatic and instant, yet characteristically bitter-sweet. Jamie xx again subverts the listener’s feelings with the final lines of the track; “You’re in ecstasy without me, when you come down I won’t be around”, and all of a sudden we need to think about what we have been listening to, wasn’t it the warm, comfy coming together we were listening to? Maybe it was, but how often do you get true happy endings?

Our questioning doesn’t last too long, however, as ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’ introduces itself. With vocals from Young Thug and Popcaan, on paper this track looks like the joker in the pack; but don’t be fooled – time spent in Brooklyn ensured that Jamie xx brings hip hop and dancehall seamlessly into his fold. The track has been billed in many places as the soundtrack of summer 2015, and the label seems fair. There is no subversion here – this is the optimistic moment that has been coming, the synths chime like light and the vocals drive the tempo making sure that there will be people dancing to this track all over the world in coming months.

‘The Rest Is Noise’ brings us slowly out of the levity of ‘Good Times’, but the tempo remains, contrary to the rest of the album, this track feels like moving through time at the speed of light, and there are moments of Underworld-esque euphoria. Finally the album comes to ‘Girl’, which Jamie xx has confessed to being one of the most personal pieces of music he has made. It returns to the nostalgia of earlier tracks, and whilst it is filling, with washes of vocal samples and synths, there is still a jittering ringing around, a little bit of discomfort in a world of warmth.

As a whole the album is unique, it draws on so many references and elements, drawing them together in a way that is widely varied, but always recognisably Jamie xx. It is complex, but easy to listen to, with hidden depths and no end of emotion. It is sure to be one of the best albums of the year… Time to listen to it again.

In Colour is released on 1st June via Young Turks Recordings Ltd.

Jamie McNicholas