It’s been four years since we’ve heard a new studio album from acclaimed DJ and producer Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx. If you’ve never heard of Smith’s solo work, you have probably heard his material in The xx, his primary band. And for good reason, Smith has been skyrocketing in popularity, mainly after his production crediting on Drake’s hit single “Take Care,” and then Smith’s 2011 remix album, We’re New Here, which reimagined Gil Scott Heron’s I’m New Here track by track. That album hinted that Smith was going to go onto big things as Jamie xx, and almost four years later, In Colour is here, proving that he sure can shine on his own
What’s remarkable about what Smith does on In Colour is that he writes so many genres into these songs, many that the casual music fan may not know and appreciate, all while making it totally accessible. In Colour is not just an electronic album, mind you. Smith incorporates elements of post-dubstep, trip hop, UK garage, future garage, hardcore (the techno kind), and house music, just to name a few. I won’t sit here and explain the technicalities of each one of the genres, but the way that Smith weaves them into this vibrant set of tracks not only creates a varied and incredibly enjoyable listening experience, but gives the listener a history lesson of the UK dance music scene.
A great example of this is the opening track on the record, “Gosh,” which is greeted by a spine shuddering repeated bass line and a sharp stuttering vocal sample. Throughout the song, there are some incredibly deep, drawn out synth lines in the back of the mix, which often left me with goosebumps in the right listening environment. About halfway through the track, a bright synthesizer completely takes over which continues to fly over the mix for the remainder of the track, providing insane contrast to the dark, grimy beat. “Gosh” is the perfect ode to UK hardcore, embracing breakbeats and elements of early rave music.
In Colour‘s lead single, “Loud Places,” is an absolutely brilliant, nostalgic journey. Crowd chatter and some light bouncy chimes at the start of the track bleeds into fellow xx member’s Romy Madley Croft’s incredibly soft, elegant voice. “Loud Places” features Romy delicately expressing a presumably lost love. She sings of the pair as if the two were entirely perfect for each other, that she took him to “higher places,” and is now distressed that he found someone take further than she could have.
Instrumentally, the verses on this track would be nothing without that mesmerizing repeated chime, contrasted by the dark, almost depressing sounding bass, and emotional piano chords. The emotional vocal delivery hangs on every word, until the chorus, with its absolutely stunning, infectious soul sample, “I have never reached such heights / I feel the music in your eyes” kicks into its sonic ecstasy. Romy’s final verse is one of the most emotionally moving pieces I have heard her sing, even in her work in The xx. With all instrumentals droping off to a solo piano, Romy delicately sings “You’re in ecstasy, without me / When you come down / I won’t be around.”
After this absolutely stunning moment, Smith presents possibly the worst moment in any piece of music I have listened to this year. It begins promising, with a groovy soul sample ringing out “I know, there’s gonna be good times,” but that promise ends along with the sample. I’ll be straight forward here: this Young Thug verse on “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is absolutely abysmal. In no way, shape, or form does this verse fit in with the aesthetic of the album as a whole.
The cringe worthy, auto tuned rapping includes lines such as “I don’t waste time, I don’t waste time / I don’t have patience baby, she gon’ get on top of this dick / And she gon’ squish it like Squish, then she go fast, she Speed Racer,” “Come here bae, I’m molesting,” “She got that pussy locked up like the Locksmith,” and my personal favorite “I’mma ride that pussy like a stroller,” and is just incredibly off putting. Thankfully, the last two tracks, “Girl” and “The Rest is Noise,” are two of the better tracks on the entire record, or else Smith would run the risk of losing the listener.
While on the subject of vocal features, I’d like to mention one thing. As incredible of a track “Loud Places” is, I walked away from the track feeling like I had just listened to an xx song, and even more so on the two other tracks, “SeeSaw” and “Stranger in a Room,” featuring xx vocalists Romy and Oliver. I don’t really know if this is a bad thing, because each track was still great production wise, but The xx features felt kind of cheesy in a way, with the exception of “Loud Places.” I was hoping that Smith would stray away from the familiar voices of his band mates and take these tracks in a different direction. Maybe I’m just bitter that James Blake probably could have been on one of these tracks and wasn’t, but the vocal delivery on “SeeSaw” and “Stranger in a Room” came as nothing to write home about.
Even after the abomination that is “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” Smith has undoubtedly proven himself to not only be an immaculate producer, but one of the more talented names in pop music. In Colour left me completely satisfied as Jamie xx hit every end of the spectrum musically, or at least within the dance music scene, which is a feat that would probably come off as incredibly cluttered from most. A true sonic journey, one that everyone should take, the album will leave a sense of incredible nostalgia, sometimes melancholy, and constant moving feet.