Jamie xx: In Colour review – larging it, for introverts

(Young Turks)

In many ways, the debut album proper by xx producer Jamie Smith is yet another backward-looking record that calculatingly reconfigures the music of the past – something UK tune-makers, from Adele and Sam Smith on down the food chain, continue to make their stock-in-trade.

But In Colour is no mere sepia-tinted nostalgia trip. It might be a kaleidoscopic 11-track tribute to raves long past, a paean to the styles Smith is too young to remember first-hand, and the incidental chatter of London pirate radio circa 1992 that he is too young to have heard – a direction presaged in last summer’s pre-album offering, All Under One Roof Raving. But it is also about the pleasure of being alone, enveloped in bass, in a sea of many; of refracting what can often be a superficial experience – London clubbing – into something more existential, more nuanced, more unified.

Jamie xx, All Under One Roof Raving

And while it is true that In Colour is considerably happier than the xx’s works – witness the excited jump-up of Gosh, the opening track, or I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), which features Atlantan sing-rapper Young Thug playing off against Jamaican dancehall MC Popcaan – it is also one of the least lairy party albums in the world, ever, a potent antidote to bro-step, the current stadium iteration of dance music. You could call this larging it, for introverts.

Sung by Jamie’s xx bandmate Oliver Sim, the minimal Stranger in a Room is a salute to clubbing as an act of liberating reinvention. “Wanna change your colours, just for the night?” asks Sim. “With no word of it following you home?” The track lacks anything approaching a denouement, a bass drop, a chorus; it just ends, and the next (Hold Tight) begins to coagulate into focus, like a distant party a few streets down, where you struggle to find the first beat in the bar because it is too far away to grasp.

Loud Places is rather like Stranger in a Room, but with xx guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft on board. “I go to loud places to search for someone/to be quiet with/who will take me home.” There is a chorus this time, but correspondingly more melancholy. The highs of Madley Croft’s affections can’t hope to compete with those of the dancefloor. “You’re in ecstasy without me/When you come down/I won’t be around,” she husks.

One of Smith’s signature steel pan melodies opens a track called Obvs, but these little bits of branding are kept in discreet check throughout, sometimes reappearing in disguise – as clinking bottles, or arpeggiating keyboards.

There are spaces, ambient dubby interludes where not a lot happens – Just Saying finds the rattle of a large sheet of tinfoil playing off against a particularly mellifluous vacuum cleaner – that point to a lot of time being spent on the interstitials, as well as the songs. The entire album feels (intentionally, you assume) a little like wandering around a rave, different sounds coming in and out of focus in the corridors, toilet queue chitchat forming part of the soundscape. The end of Seesaw, another Madley Croft track in which love goes up and down, finds some anonymous raver at a loss for words. “I just….” he splutters. “The world just…” he stammers. You know how he feels.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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