The XX are without a doubt one of the most divisive bands to come out in the last 5 years. Ever since they came onto the scene in 2010 with their eponymous titled debut album and managed to beat big name artists like Biffy Clyro and Foals for the prestigious Mercury Prize award, they’ve managed to split opinions right down the centre. Some call their music simple yet creative whilst others cast it off as nothing but coffee shop music but there’s something that both sides can agree on and that’s Jamie XX.
The 26 year old, whose real name is Jamie Smith, is hard to fault when it comes to his skills as a producer and remix artist. To many it seemed like his work with his main band The XX was limiting his range since, as lovely as the stripped back sound of both their debut album and follow up Coexist was, 2011 remix album We’re New Here showed how much potential the London born lad had. With an expert blend of various styles, even managing to pull of the Marmite sound of Dubstep, the sheer range of XX’s abilities were fascinating to anyone wise enough to give the album a listen to when it came out.
Now with 2 albums with his main band under his belt alongside his remix album, Jamie XX should surely feel ready to face the challenges that this hype he has accumulated over the past few years will have set up for him. Although there had been singles released and sprinkled about the place in the months preceding In Colour’s release this week, I managed to wait and experience this album just yesterday. Any worries anyone had can be confidently laid to rest.
Icelandic musician Bjork once said that if there’s no soul in electronic music that it’s because nobody put it there and this is something that Jamie XX had liked the sound of in an interview with factmag but in his full length solo debut album he’s managed to defy such a statement. As soon as Gosh, the opening track to In Colour, starts up, you can tell you’ve just stuck on something that’s about to change your opinion on electronic music. Although he has over 5 years experience in this industry, XX approaches this single with the enthusiasm of someone who’s just picked up their very first synthesiser. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh/ Easy, easy/ All it down, all it down are hardly mind blowing lyrics but that’s not XX’s aim: his music has always been simple but at the same time music that you could listen to over and over again and pick out something new in the track that you love. The lyrics themselves are pulled from an unaired episode of the BBC 1 DJ Program One In The Jungle which is very fitting for the track and sets the bar for the quality of the music to come on the rest of the LP.
The sampling on this record has to be praised as it’s very difficult to take a piece of music and warp and use it in such a way that it pleases not only first time listeners but those who have memories with the sample in question. Sleep Sound, which starts off with a ring that’ll probably make you jump up to check the phone, samples Four Freshmen’s It’s A Blue World, a track that is mesmerising by itself with its beautiful harmony. Jamie acknowledges this and knows what he’s working with, delicately editing the piece and letting it float about in ambience and airy synth sounds.
Although the sound is the star on this album, it would be a crime not to give some credit to the wonderful vocal performances. SeeSaw has Jamie reunited with fellow bandmate Romy, her soft spoken and beautiful voice clicking in to place with the equally as gentle sound provided on the track. The sound is almost up in the air which is also fitting seeing as the subject of the song is heartbreak, a topic that Jamie’s band have not been afraid to touch upon in the past. The uncertainty of the person in the song’s future as she watches a past loved one experience happiness is something that the listener can relate to, whether it be something happening to them personally or if they themselves feel uncertain about what Jamie will throw at them next. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) is probably this track to the latter. Featuring rapper Young Thug and PopCaan, the reggae reminiscent track is a change of pace from the rest of the album yet doesn’t seem to out of place. In Colour traverses through different genres and sounds but although the thought of these three artist collaborating sounds awful initially, the result is the two rappers providing the required energy while still keeping themselves grounded.
2015 has been a great year for certain genres, especially Hip-Hop with the likes of Kendrick, Drake and Death Grips helping to revitalise a genre many thought was going to grow stale. The brilliant thing about In Colour is how difficult it is to pigeon hole. It’s been described by some reviewers as a rave album and some tracks like the aforementioned Gosh could imply that it is such an album. However each track can be interpreted in so many and the term “electronic” is so vague that it’s almost insulting. Whether you think it’s a rave album, a techno one or even a semi reggae one for some reason, you’re both right and wrong. One thing is for sure though and that’s that you’ll definitely be in the latter if you decide to give this album a skip.