Jamie XX has been lurking in the background of electronic music for quite some time now. He’s been accumulating a healthy collection of solo singles away from his band The XX and what’s become apparent is how glaringly different he sounds to the material The XX puts out. Jamie XX has a fascination with rave music and UK garage and over the course of the past six years he’s been mastering the art of making tracks that don’t sound like they could’ve come out of the era where rave dominated the airwaves, but have been influenced by that time and culture to make something a lot more dark, atmospheric and singular.
‘In Colour’ is the appropriately titled album where Jamie XX works through so many different textures and timbres within UK Garage, Jungle and anything else he can get his hands on. The album opener ‘Gosh’ starts with the heavy boom of a bass and drum loops that pay homage to the artists he’s inspired by. The sampled phrase ‘EASY EASY’ is repeatedly shouted – by what sounds like someone having a great time in a sweaty club in London – over the top of waves of bass slowly growing louder. Although the track in principle has the tropes of a UK Garage song that would be made to make people dance, the more the track goes on it evolves into what sounds like a beautiful exploration of sounds and ideas. The phrase becomes part of what sounds like a nostalgic memory of someone enjoying their time in a club in Hackney.
Throughout the entire album there’s snippets between songs such as the hustle and bustle of crowds or someone saying the line ‘You’re the most beautiful girl in Hackney ya know that?’ towards the backend of the album. What might sound like a disgusting attempt to sleep with someone is presented in a way where it sounds like a ridiculous memory filtered through the eyes of nostalgia of someone doing just that. These aren’t the sort of Dance songs you’ll hear and think about the disgusting damp smell of people rubbing up against each other in a club, it’s the sound of someone looking back through the goggles of the past at some of the best times they’ve ever had in those clubs.
The actual music itself can be taken as so much more than just capturing memories or certain places in time because the songs on here are truly stunning. Jamie XX explores a massive range of sounds such as joyous melodies of the steel drum on the song ‘Obvs’ which is manipulated into sounding so dark and mysterious, to the sonic landscapes of the closing track ‘Girl’. The video for the song ‘Gosh’ is a visual exploration of Mars and the way in which these songs are curated match that imagery so well. Jamie XX uses bass in ways that aren’t there to sound filthy, groovy or get anyone to move; he lets the bass completely fill out the space of his compositions enhancing every instrumental that’s put in his path.
Even when he uses Romy’s vocals (from The XX) on the track ‘Seesaw’ they’re drenched in reverb yet don’t sound uninventive or like a cheap trick, but instead sound like another instrument for him to add to his pallet. When she shows up later for the track ‘Loud Places’ she sounds absolutely stunning when she’s backed by a massive choir of soulful singers. He uses everything he can on this album and still sounds like he’s becoming an auteur mastering his own distinct style. The track ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ with Young Thug sticks out like a saw thumb in so many ways when listened to individually and compared to the brooding nature of the rest of the album yet when listened to in conjuncture with the track-listing it sounds coherent, because once again all of Jamie XX’s highly attuned ear for mixing all the same ingredients to create such interesting textures is incredible. There’s something about Young Thug that grinds my eardrums but when his voice is paired up against the soulful vocals of the Dancehall artist Popcaan it sounds as if the bridge between Jungle, commercial Hip-Hop and Dancehall has been successfully created.
There’s very little wrong with this record aside from some overly dramatic vocals from Oliver (also from The XX) on the track ‘Stranger In a Room’- it’s the only song that really sounds like it could be a song from The XX. Jamie XX has proven himself to be such a worthy solo act that surpasses The XX’s material on nearly every level. There’s an overwhelming feeling that this is just a project that rounds up what he’s done so far with his solo career but he’ll keep evolving as an artist and (hopefully) deliver another even more coherent second album.
Best Tracks: Gosh, Obvs, Seesaw, Loud Places, It’s Gonna Be (Good Times)