‘In Colour’ – Jamie XX Review: Lots of Ingredients Make a Great Stew
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Jamie xx, birth name Jamie Smith, initially rose to prominence as producer and creative genius behind the London based trio The xx but has gained more than his own following as a producer, DJ and remix artist. In late 2010, he released the remix of “NY is Killing Me” from Gil Scott-Heron‘s album I’m New Here; the two would go on to collaborate and release a full length remix album called We’re New Here. Smith’s fingers have been in every part of the musical pie in the past few years; in addition to producing a title track for a Drake album (Take Care), he also produced songs for Alicia Keys (“When It’s All Over”), and remixed artists including Florence and the Machine, Nosaj Thing, Adele, Radiohead and Four Tet.
In many ways, Smith’s first solo full length release In Colour (XL, Young Turks) feels like the culmination of his musical influences and experimentations. Sounds are introduced to a track and then mysteriously lost in the swirling synths only a few beats later, waiting to return later in a completely different disguise. The album itself runs a little under 43 minutes and carries eleven tracks, seven without vocals completely, clearly heavily influenced by Smith’s time spent DJ’ing all across London.
The songs Smith makes with his xx bandmates serve as a sort of sonic anchor for listeners who may be unfamiliar with more of Smith’s solo work and songs like “Loud Places” and “See-Saw,” both of which feature Romy Madley-Croft, the female singer from The xx, wouldn’t sound out of place on a future xx album. Oliver Sims, male lead singer for the xx also guests on the slow building and expansive “Stranger in a Room”, a key segue into the dancier back half of the album. Lyrics on both deal with the classic xx theme of melancholy from inside the party; on “Loud Places”, Madley-Croft delivers the already Tumblr canonized “I go to loud places/ to search for someone / to be quiet with” and its easy to understand why Smith himself says “I like working alone” in a recent Guardian profile.
The only non-xx affiliated guests on the album are actually two guest features from deep left field, designed to show not only Smith’s musical versatility but also maybe give listeners the song of the summer. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” sees Smith flipping a classic sample from The Persuasions (which they apparently forgot they okay’ed) to make a bouncy summer anthem but he’s not done there. Recruiting Jamaican dance-hall royalty Popcaan and the latest, cross dressing gangster to come out of Atlanta in Young Thug would seem like a suicidal move for most singles but Smith manages to coax some of Thugger’s funniest couplets out of him; at one point Thugger tells us that he’s going to “ride in the p**** like a stroller/ I’ll survive in the motherf****** gutter.”
Once the party is over though, Smith brings the album to an appropriate close with the spectacular “The Rest is Noise.” Using only his Mariana Trench deep library of samples, Smith manages to tie together the dance hall tracks with the more introspective and emotive music you would expect from the mind behind the xx and close out the album with something simultaneously emotionally moving that physically begs you to get up and move.
The album is in whole a stellar solo debut and whether or not Smith releases anymore solo music, it is worth having for many months to come. In Colour is available on iTunes and is streaming on Spotify as well.