Already known as a fine producer and remixer, Jamie xx - born plain Jamie Smith - has previously opted only to release occasional 12” singles rather than collecting together a full body of solo work. However, needing to clear the decks to allow his full focus to be on the forthcoming third album by The xx, ‘In Colour’ forms the necessary outlet.
Opting to stitch the songs together with various bits of background noise and chatter is a masterstroke, both providing the structure Smith clearly desired and cementing the atmosphere of a rather retro night out, with more than a gentle nod to the dance scenes of the Nineties. ‘In Colour’, with its title surely mocking the monochrome melancholia surrounding The xx’s two albums to date, is an infectious, insistent burst of melody.
The bar is set high by ‘Gosh’, built around a charmingly British sample of an MC proclaiming ‘oh my gosh’ before ascending on a keyboard line pulsing in euphoric fashion. Where the spaces in his band’s music can often sound claustrophobic, here they are hazy, optimistic pauses before the next high. And there are plenty of highs.
Bandmates Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim both put in appearances, the latter on the album’s midpoint ‘Stranger In A Room’. The track comes on like a manically sped up take on Nils Frahm’s ‘Says’, but is ultimately a little disappointing for being the only thing here that feels too much like his day job. It’s far from a criticism, but in the company it’s keeping, it does stand out a little. Compare it to ‘Loud Places’, upon which Madley Croft guests, and the difference is stark. Smith shamelessly inserts a sample from Idris Muhammad’s ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ as its chorus and offers up the early hours comedown track of the summer.
The chief delight of ‘In Colour’ is hearing various constituent parts that are already familiar and well liked repositioned, twisted and manipulated into something other. And, arguably, better. ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’ is another corker, driven forward by a fizzing vocal duel between rapper Young Thug and Popcaan, a Jamaican dancehall star.
All of which is not to say that the record only stands tall with the help of its collaborators, important though they are. Indeed, ‘In Colour’ is built most significantly around Smith’s dextrous handling of his basslines, taking ‘Hold Tight’, the hands aloft ‘The Rest Is Noise’ and ‘Girl’ in wondrously deep directions. Even cavernous, disorienting bridging track ‘Just Saying’ manages to be noteworthy in less than ninety seconds.
So often the phrase ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ is used to describe a band and yet, on ‘In Colour’, Smith marks himself out as the part greater than the sum. Whether the forthcoming third album by The xx is similarly invigorated remains to be seen, but for the time being we have an emotive, emphatic and often joyous collection of music that plays equally for the head and the heart. A glorious, technicolour triumph.
Words: Gareth James
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