Compact Review: Jamie xx’s In Colour

Jamiexx-InColour

Jamie xx – In Colour
Rating: 96/100
Released: May 29, 2015

We live in a Rotten Tomatoes world. Everything we consume has been reviewed, Tweeted and Pitchforked long before we actually get to taste it. We aggregate critical consensus and use that information to curate our own entertainment with ruthless hyper-efficiency. Our critical sabermetrics and IV drip of Google searches can tell us everything about an album except what matters. No amount of tech wizardry can predict or virtualize how the music will make us feel when it finally hits us and there are few things in life more satisfying than having high expectations exceeded.

Despite the months/years of hype, In Colour soars above expectation. As the production mastermind behind The xx, Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx has had a solo album bubbling below the surface for years. His work as part of The xx is minimal and evocative but always seemed somewhat limiting for his talent. On In Colour, Jamie xx takes his craft to higher places and the result is stunning.

The album opens with the bass heavy “Gosh” which fires off a relentless barrage of percussive hand claps and snare hits before introducing a high pitch synth wail, turning a minimal beat into an escalating and emotive experience. The chill house vibe and vocal harmonies sampled on “Sleep Sound” expand the aesthetic boundaries of In Colour and lead seamlessly into the tormented “SeeSaw” which features The xx bandmate Romy. “Gosh” and “Sleep Sound” feel sound like Smith is just warming up and revving the engine. Once the opening breakbeat sample of “SeeSaw” starts, In Colour turns inside out and Jamie xx’s vision takes shape. Dance-floor percussion and bubbling synth arpeggios engulf Romy’s haunting vocal melodies. The lyrics are simple but when paired with such lush soundscapes, “SeeSaw” creates a resonantly emotional effect.

From that point on, In Colour is unceasingly beautiful. The steel drum loop of “Obvs” escalates and pivots, with each turn bringing some new subtlety of mood and style. The guitar riff about halfway through starts simple and steady before faltering into something so stirring, I actually held my breath for a moment when I first heard it. “Just Saying” is a brief instrumental with vast aural textures surrounding a handful of basic piano chords. It builds suspense but never releases and the energy carries directly into “Stranger In A Room” which features Smith’s other The xx bandmate Oliver Smith. Much of In Colour is instrumental so when vocals enter the arrangement, they seem purposefully bold; the emotions and experiences of the album hover like abstract vapor through the instrumentals then appear suddenly fully formed on tracks like “SeeSaw” and “Stranger In A Room”.

Similarly, the transition from conceptual to practical is demonstrated in a profound fashion on “Hold Tight” and  “Loud Places”. The former simulates the chaotic sensation and methodical rhythm of a large crowded club as the bass thumps, the synths crackle and then a light breaks through the mist as “Loud Places” appears. Romy returns to give a voice to the aimless wandering and loneliness familiar to anyone who has ever attended a concert stag. If “Hold Tight” is the external experience of such an venue, “Loud Places” is the agony  and elation of what happens beneath the surface. The lyrics are uncomplicated but the feeling is immense. The thumping post-disco bass of “Loud Places” and its soaring chorus make for one of the most stunning moments on any album this year.

Watch Jamie xx perform “Loud Places” live with Romy and Oliver Smith on Live du Grand Journal

I honestly still can’t process “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”. In the midst of this gorgeously subtle album filled with nuanced texture, we get a radio ready hip-hop jam featuring Young Thug and Popcaan. It’s a certified banger but it still throws me off every time it comes on.

As In Colour nears its closing minutes, an instrumental track titled “The Rest Is Noise” twists and turns through several movements, each highlighting a particular strength of Smith’s. There are no lyrics but the sentiment is tangible. In the final minute of the song, all the effervescent patterns of sound surge together in a stunning crescendo. It moves me in a way that only music can; on “The Rest Is Noise” the formless and indescribable emotions of human experience have a voice and it’s entirely breathtaking.

The In Colour album artwork is already iconic. The range of vibrant colors provide a beautiful analogue for the rich textures and soundscapes found insideEclectic but never disorganized, Jamie xx manages to focus 11 entirely unique tracks into one coherent progression of sound. It’s a nearly perfect vision and it is realized magnificently. Albums like In Colour remind me that everything I know and read about music is just static. No amount of research or review can entirely describe how music can make us feel but I am compelled to try. In Colour is an inspiration. The rest is noise.

Top Tracks: “Loud Places ft. Romy”, “Obvs”, “The Rest Is Noise”

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