In Colour is no mere sepia-tinted nostalgia trip. It might be a kaleidoscopic 11-track tribute to raves long past, a ode to the styles Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, is too young to remember first-hand, and the jabber of London pirate radio circa 1992 that he is much too young to have ever heard – a direction foretold 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.
There comes a moment in many artists’ careers when they stumble on the secret weapon that is the past. For some, this might mean using samples of old music or immersing themselves in the obscure traditions that anticipate or underlie today’s music. Smith celebrated the release of “All Under” by sampling a decades-spanning and occasionally moving set of British dance music for Boiler Room. What made “All Under” enthralling was not its references to yesterday’s sounds, but its desire to recover yesterday’s sense of wonder. Rather than sample old bass lines or drum patterns, Smith sampled snippets of dialogue from the videos and documentaries that he had watched while on tour with The xx, drawing particular inspiration.
The old school house of opener ‘Gosh‘, which builds spectacularly and climaxes with a pirouetting lead synth, is sure to prove a defining moment in his festival sets later this year. But despite some extrovert moments, In Color retains all the sparse atmosphere of an xx record.
Smith’s bandmate Romy Madley Croft lends her characteristically waif-like vocals to ‘Loud Places’, which balances a stadium-sized hook with nuanced and sorrowful lyrics. A swelling chorus, complete with huge handclaps, gives way to the remorseful closing line “You’re in ecstasy, without me/When you come down I won’t be around”. It’s emotive, euphoric and totally stunning. The track’s use of sampling is also testament to Smith’s invention. Smith, takes the chorus of Idris Muhammad’s 1977 record ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ and stretches it out, transforming it into a serene anthem to form the centerpiece of the album.
There’s something of an Illmatic feel about In Color in the way it captures the feel of the city it was made in. While Nas depicted life in Queensbridge, New York, Smith adds brief snapshots of life in London to his debut, with excerpts of snatched conversations adding further color to the already kaleidoscopic album.
The 26-year old producer deploys his trademark steel drum on summer belter ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)‘, but In Color excels when exploring the nocturnal atmosphere patented by The xx. The Orbital-esque ‘Sleep Sound’ and shimmering ‘Obvs’ captivate, while the sparse ‘Stranger In a Room’ is a rich highlight. Smith’s xx band mate Oliver Sim sings “Wanna change your colors, just for the night…With no word of it following you home?” on the track, which acts as a tranquil homage to clubbing in the British capital.
Somnolent dance follows euphoric anthems on Jamie xx’s In Color like a quiet drive home after a night at a rave. The closing track ‘Girl’ swells and dissolves spectrally, bringing down the curtain on a tremendously impressive debut. This is one producer with a massive future ahead of him.