Jamie Smith has long been developing and honing his skill as a producer, from working on the first two albums with his group, The XX to branching out with his unique brand of low-key dance music, Jamie XX has quickly risen to become the indie darling of the dance world, always surprising, innovating and pushing creative boundaries. ‘In Colour’ marks Smith’s first solo venture into album territory and with it an invigorated new sense of direction for the young artist. The album title, originally starting as a tongue in cheek jibe regarding The XX’s all black dress code and gloomy appearance, accurately encapsulates the work as a whole, the album is bold and charters new territories for Smith showcasing a previously unseen element of emotional depth within his solo work.
Despite the new direction Smith has taken, there’s elements of the work where his XX roots shine through. Nowhere is this more evident that the inclusion of bandmate, Oliver Sim on ‘Stranger in a Room’, a sparse, raw track filled with cascading synths and that signature seductive yet despairing tone fans of The XX have become accustomed to. Similarly ‘Seesaw’ with its vocals provided by Romy Madley Croft could be mistaken for new material from the outfit, taking the emotional rawness of the trio and tinging it with fluctuating electronica. It’s a stark, hypnotising track with its different elements blending together into a sense of sonic unity, with Madley Croft crooning, “I’m on a Seesaw, up and down with you,” throughout. All this before a seemingly intoxicated clubgoer has a near existential crisis at the end of the track. It’s just one of many examples where the smattering of vocal recordings and snippets lend a link to reality and cement the album as a wholly London-centric work. ‘Loud Places’ is perhaps the most commercially minded track on the album, a song that’s easy to picture as the backing track for an inspirational BBC sports reel, not that that’s a criticism, it’s a bonafide interesting pop song that builds from the quiet musings of Madley Croft into a ballsy euphoric singalong with tinges of gospel.
‘Hold Tight’ waxes and wanes with its looping bass lines interspersed with intermittent 90s MC blips reminiscent of 2014’s ‘All Under One Roof Raving’, which is strangely absent from the album. The obnoxiously named ‘Obvs’ is a brazen swirling affair of repeated steel drums and that signature XX bass driven sound, which swiftly and unexpectedly mixes into a lavish, smooth guitar solo. ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ is the album’s unexpected collaborative gem showcasing Smith’s sheer versatility as a producer. Combining the efforts of Atlanta rapper Young Thug with rising reggae star Popcaan over a soul sample with steel drum loops, it’s pure musical mixology, juggling genres and artists to create a sound that’s entirely unique. It suits the oft-criticised rapping style of Young Thug well and could well be the unexpected stand out hit of the summer. Then there’s the inescapable allure of ‘Girl’ a track that still sounds just as fresh and innovative after its release two years ago, with it’s strategic sampling of the channel 4, Kano featuring drama, Top Boy providing the witty and apt “You’re the most beautiful girl in Hackney y’know…” before making way to dreamy, rising synths and a repeated sample from 1980s jazz-funk duo Freeez.
In many ways, ‘In Colour’ listens like a love letter to a scene, a place and a time. Recorded over a five year period of frantic touring with The XX, Smith has previously stated he suffered from bouts of homesickness throughout the process and this longing for London clearly shows within the record. The album wears its patriotic heart on its sleeve, blending and twisting a plethora of genres, sounds and influences to create a sonic amalgamation of modern urban Britain. It’s diverse and complex but its different influences and roots combine and blend to create something beautiful. Then there’s the sheer effort that went into gathering the array of vocal snippets and interviews that adorn the album. From the recordings of the inane yet deep 3 am chats in club smoking areas to the recurring interviews with 90s rave MCs, many of whom now work as taxi drivers and had to be tracked down by Smith’s record label Young Turks in order to seek sampling rights.
Jamie XX has long been diffusing claims of the zany side project with his exciting and eclectic sets, his Adele remixes and his collaboration with the late, great Gil Scott Heron on ‘We’re New Here’, however ‘In Colour’ seems like that final cementation of his work, the official establishment of Smith as an artist in his own right, away from the often constricting morose sounds of The XX. Smith has himself stated that the album solely came about as a target and means of finalising unfinished work from his extensive collection of samples and recordings. Five years is a long time for any album to be created, let alone a debut, but it’s evident through the details and dedication that ‘In Colour’ is a labour of love, finely honed and crafted over the years, and the work of someone who truly cares about every single element of their creative output.
Words: Charlie Jaco