There’s Gonna Be Good Times With Jamie xx’s In Colour [Review]


Listening to In Colour is very similar to going through a friend-of-a-friend’s Facebook page: you know you’ve seen him around before, but you’re not sure what he’s about. There’s a few different ways a non-fan would have heard of Jamie Smith, a.k.a. Jamie xx. First and foremost, he is one of the three members of indie-pop trio The xx. Secondly, he is a very capable producer who has remixed tracks by Florence + The Machine, Adele, Radiohead, and The xx, not to mention a whole remix album with Gil Scott-Heron called We’re New Here (a reworking of Scott-Heron’s final album “I’m New Here”)—one of the tracks was sampled/covered for the Drake and Rihanna song “Take Care.” But remixes are easy to overlook, and the average person might have no idea who Jamie xx is and why there’s all this hype around him. Being a debut record, In Colour is in effect already an introduction, but instead of just introducing Jamie xx, the record also celebrates him and his musical background, from the UK rave scene to his time in The xx.

UK dance music and the rave scene there is perhaps the biggest influence on Jamie xx. A few months before In Colour was announced, he dropped “All Under One Roof Raving,” a tribute to the UK rave scene. Maybe that track was too musically jingoistic, because it never made it onto the album. Instead, we got the In Colour opener “Gosh,” a slow building song that starts with just a beat and sampled vocals, and then, about halfway through, the bass and synths gradually cascade in, creating a fully formed and wonderful melody. “Gosh” is more subtle in celebrating its musical heritage; its samples, taken from the pilot of a BBC1 radio show about dance music, repeat “oh my gosh,” and also include “yes UK massive” and mentions of “keeping that vibe alive.” Following “Gosh” are ten more colorful (no pun intended) tracks of different genres and blends all cut together to flow as one cohesive listening experience, as any DJ worth their salt is trained to do.

The album’s title refers directly to his work with The xx and his desire to, at least for this record, set himself apart from the all black-wearing, black and white album cover aesthetic of the trio. “I called the album In Colour, as a reference to the fact that everyone thinks The xx is very dark, because we all wear black, and we’re very melancholy. But actually, this is quite a colorful record,” Jaime xx said in a recent interview with Pigeons and Planes. And he’s right—this record is his own thing, but he doesn’t forgo all associations with The xx; his bandmates, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, show up a few times to provide vocals over Jamie’s arrangements, and each time, for an xx fan, it feels a little like coming home.

Oliver Sim, the male voice you hear on some xx songs (for the longest time I thought it was Jamie xx singing), is featured on the song “Stranger In A Room,” and it sounds just like a song from their band. There’s no beat at all—the arrangement is nothing but Sim’s voice, his trademark echo-y guitar, and a synth arpeggio. In that instance, there is no real difference between In Colour and an xx album, but hey, every box of crayons has to come with at least one black one, right? On the other hand, The first time we hear Romy, it’s on the third track, “SeeSaw.” It’s very light and airy because of the shimmering synth, and the arpeggio of electronic notes dots the song like a starry sky, all over a constant drum ‘n’ bass backbeat. Her voice fits very well here, even though it’s a lot different then the kind of music she typically sings over.

Romy is featured a second time on the song “Loud Places,” which was released as a single a few months earlier. Musically, the verses are sparse, with just a kick drum, piano and Romy’s voice—an ambiance a bit more reminiscent of an xx song, especially factoring in the melancholy lyrics about heartbreak and moving on. But the chorus explodes in a blast of color, introducing guitars, more varied percussion, synths, and a soulful sample from Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” quickly turning any expectations on their heads.

The album also showcases Jamie xx’s love of Caribbean and soul music sounds. Steel drums show up periodically in his body of work, from occasionally popping up in The xx’s catalogue, to “Far Nearer,” his first solo production, and now into his album in the song “Obvs,” which is built around a groove laid down by steel drums. “Far Nearer” is a good example because it also has another one of Jamie xx’s tricks, the soul sample. Of course, sampling soul music is nothing new—hip-hop was basically founded on it—so when Jamie xx does it on a song like “Loud Places,” it feels simultaneously old school and fresh at the same time.

Sitting at the confluence of these two fascinations is the song “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” Jamie xx’s bid at getting a little mainstream attention. The opening and hook are based on a sample of a soulful acapella group, but the rhythm is derived from Jamaican dancehall; with the help of dancehall artist Popcaan and Young Thug, the song sounds like low-key Major Lazer and is not unlike what gets played on mainstream radio. It’s a great jam and should definitely be a staple in Summer 2015 playlists.

Even though In Colour does stay mostly separate from The xx, it still feels largely nocturnal. As I mentioned before, the album is cut together so it flows naturally, the songs interspersed with interview clips and restaurant banter; it feels like a great soundtrack to a summer night out on the town. Much like a number of the recent popular albums made by electronic producers—your Random Access Memories, your Uptown Specials, and more specifically SBTRKT’s Wonder Where We Land and Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time—In Colour covers a number of different styles and blends others together. This is a smart move because it not only gives the artist freedom, but it also allows the audience who is perhaps unfamiliar with the genre to pick and choose what sounds they like and discover that they like more sounds on subsequent listens. In Colour does a great job of this, and whether he set out to make a statement, educate and convert the masses, or just make good music, Jamie xx will probably turn some people on to the music he celebrates.



In Colour is available in stores, digitally, or through the label’s website.

Post By Julian Ames (23 Posts)

Music enthusiast, maker, and soon-to-be master (hopefully). Exiled from civilization for crimes against the realm. Currently lives in Miami.