Jamie xx – In Colour
by Mike Doub (Journalism/Psychology), published June 2nd 2015
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Compare, visually, Jamie xx’s better-known gig to his new album In Colour and you’ll learn all you need to about how the projects differ. The xx operate with a stark minimalism of a piece with their monochromatic album covers, finding grooves and beauty in intimate places. In Colour, like its album art, is prismatic. On his long-awaited debut Jamie xx embraces the panoramic gorgeousness he first flirted with on the xx’s second (and under-rated) album Coexist. Though Coexist, despite its devotion to texture, was an indie rock album. To boot it was an xx album, and those play by a very specific, regimented set of rules. In Colour has no such obligation to identity. It’s an electronic album that flits from guise to guise, from deep house to dancehall to the sample-based heaven of peers like Four Tet and Burial. In Colour sits atop the standard bearers of each style; it’s that good.
If there’s a central trait unifying the songs of In Colour it’s that, whether operating within the xx or under his own moniker, Jamie xx is seemingly incapable of making something inelegant. On In Colour tracks unfold with a grace as if designed to function as the world’s best-curated party playlist. “Gosh” begins with breakneck drums that eventually cede the foreground to rising bass and a searing synth melody you’ll have to be anhedonic to not feel in your chest. On “Sleep Sound,” steel drums ease into a pulsing beat and muffled bass, which in turn warp into church-like hymns near the song’s close. Jamie xx’s arrangements are transmutable, constantly evolving things, and part of the joy of listening to In Colour is seeing what shape they take.
It’s also exciting to see how he purposes his vocal guests. Jamie xx’s bandmates, Oliver Sim and Romy Croft, show up to provide distinctly xx-like vocal turns over non-xx-like instrumentals, the airy “Stranger in a Room” and skittering “SeeSaw” respectively. Both songs suggest new possibilities for the xx, should the band allow some light to pierce through their moody gloom, and Croft’s later appearance on album centerpiece “Loud Places” is an even stronger showing. The title is practically a mission statement against xx values, as is the song’s swaggering Afrobeat-as-indie-pop instrumental, though the catharsis Croft narrates plays to her emotionally deft strengths. On the subsequent “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” featured rapper Young Thug showcases his, tossing out a playful verse that compliments Jamie xx’s tension-diffusing, Persuasions-sampling beat.
On paper that collaboration might sound like indie scene clickbait: oddball rapper ascendant teams up with celebrated producer for a club smash. But the craft of the latter is too assured to allow motivations as banal as trend-hopping to color his judgment. You don’t get a revelation like “The Rest is Noise” from that impulse. The track is a triumph of composition, where melodic piano lines, hand-claps and booming percussion amount to a movement far greater than the sum of its parts. That approach could also describe Jamie xx’s execution of the album proper: a wanderer’s meticulous calibration of a travelogue too expansive for his band’s sparse cool. Credit to this mad scientist that its components congeal on In Colour as seamlessly as they do.
Key tracks: “Gosh,” “Loud Places,” “The Rest is Noise”