What’s in a genre, anyway? Genres themselves can usually be constricting and compact in general, conveying a sense of inflexibility and generally puts walls around the sound being described. When things are ever experimental, it’s usually a conspicuous and sharp reach for something more, yet for English-producer Jamie xx, it’s a little different. With Jamie xx’s first step away from his group The xx, he has released a record that boasts sonics that are perfectly mingled, experimental in a sophisticated way, and minimalistic while still colourful. With a refreshing and stimulating take on one of modern music’s most staple instruments, the sampler machine, Jamie xx’s debut album In Colour is able to reinvent the wheel in the most pleasing and unconventional ways possible.
After listening to this record, it becomes very clear that Jamie has a very specific yet eclectic ear, one that varies and reaches only to collect and add to a cohesive piece and aesthetic. In this respect, Jamie is flawlessly able to pull features from Young Thug, Popcaan, and bandmates Romy and Oliver Sim while having nothing look astray. The album starts with the building and jittery ‘Gosh’, with a clanging percussion based beat built around a sample built from old BBC Radio sessions. The beat never really builds and breaks, but instead swells and cracks to reveal shining synths that pierce through the fading percussion. It’s an intro that is as subtle as it is genius, and doesn’t overuse the sample in a dance-y way a la Les Sins or Hudson Mohawke. ‘The Rest Is Noise’ pulses at a similar pace, but uses more traditional chords to build on to the crisp claps. The short interlude ‘Just Saying’ toots and whistles below layers of reverb and filters, fading in and out of a key-based melody and a faint talking sample.
Not everything here is subtle and ambient, though. ‘Seesaw’ bounces at a tempo that frequent collaborator Romy is usually not accustomed to, but her voice is filtered above and beneath the beat in a fashion not far from fellow British-producer James Blake’s wheelhouse. What becomes more and more evident, however, is the contrast between this record and Jamie’s previous production cues with The xx and even with his Gil-Scott Heron remix-album, We’re New Here. On those records, his sounds seemed more muted and controlled, where here, once the track flows and progresses, it breaks into colourful blends of disco, dance, and garage. The undeniable summer banger ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ is a brilliant example. Popcaan sounds at home atop the bright and vibrant baseline, while Young Thug sounds unusually excited and joyous, bringing more of his lighthearted Barter 6 flow to the track. Where Jamie might build a space of intimacy and closeness with his straightforward song structures, he is also able to effortlessly craft catchy and even anthemic jams with the help of his excellently executed vocal features on the album.
That, in a way, is where the real genius is found on this record. While a lot of gripes with The xx have been the bland vocals and songwriting, specifically pointing at the lack of range and emotion used on tracks in general, Jamie xx is able to solicit emotion with his brilliant, shimmering production cues, making the most simple and even grotesque loops seem beautiful and compelling. ‘Hold Tight’ features a weird, off-beat loop of some kind of dialogue, but the shuttering synths and hard 808s behind it make it seem so interesting and thoughtful. ‘Sleep Sound’ is able to use samples in a similar fashion, this time by burying it beneath layers of reverb and filters while layering it between distorted harps and soft percussion that rises and floats at beat breaks. It masterfully balances the vibes of dancing your heart out in a poorly lit club in a tight room with the intimacy of sitting at your laptop with your headphones on.
If In Colour is anything, it’s lustrous balance—in the most refreshing way. It’s balancing dancehall with trap, indie with soul, and dance with trip hop. The record finds it’s pinnacle moments side by side with samples of all shapes and sizes, while Jamie is also able to impress with his brilliantly tamed drums and minimalist bass lines. It’s able to be polished and beautiful yet it exists in a space that would be best heard in grimy underground London club. While In Colour is essentially an experiment in modern bass lines and matured, nostalgic samples, it is also can be viewed as an album that invents just as much as it borrows.