Retrospectives #2: Jamie xx – In Colour
Sometimes an album comes along that seems to capture a moment in time so perfectly that you're transported back there every time you listen to it. For a lot of people, 2015 was soundtracked by Jamie xx's seminal solo effort, In Colour. Containing masterful stylistic versatility, there is a track please every taste; from dark, downtempo to massive pop anthems – it really does have it all. Earning both Mercury Prize and Grammy nominations, the record was a huge moment in British music and to this day remains just as stellar as it ever was.
Before the release of this, his debut solo record, Jamie xx was best known as being a founding member of the hugely successful British indie pop band The xx, which remains his main musical project to this day. The majority of his solo repertoire at this time mainly consisted of remixes of some of his band's most popular singles, and most notably a remix album of Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here, which garnered widespread acclaim from critics when it was released back in February of 2011. The success of his remixes helped to solidify him as an exceptional solo artist and helped to forge close friendships with some of his contemporaries such as Four Tet; his collaborations with which helped to refine his sound even further.
With a fair amount of shared characteristics with The xx's music, a lot of In Colour's success can be attributed to Jamie striking a balance between keeping his existing xx fanbase happy, and attracting a whole new one through his tact for electronic experimentation and refreshing approach to the genre. This convergence of people with all manner of differing genre affiliations is something that you rarely see, but In Colour manages to bypass peoples tribalistic attitudes towards music and genres, and unify them under one banner.
For this, his solo work, Jamie is totally free to explore and further develop his nuanced in-the-box production and make music that reflects his personality in the truest form. In stark contrast to the polished and highly commercial nature of The xx, In Colour presented an opportunity to have absolute creative freedom over the music, as the focus had shifted from purely album sales, allowing for less strict boundaries and more control. This absolute creative freedom bred an enthusiasm that is intrinsically bound to every single track and is something which is rarely present in the majority music from today's mainstream artists - it's this enthusiasm that shaped the album into the classic it has become today: a fact which really comes across regardless of whether it's your first listen or 30th.
Without a doubt, one of the album's crowning achievements is the adept, but somewhat subtle and understated use of sampling. Often with tracks or albums that are commended for their use of sampling, the sample forms the main hook and is the most key aspect of the song - and it would drastically lose its impact if removed altogether. Contrasting with the norms of the genre, Jamie xx instead uses sampling in a subtle but incredibly effective way that serves to complement rather than carry his compositions. It is because of this that the music retains its unique essence and remains a true reflection of Jamie's character as an artist (and not just simply a collage of other peoples music).
The album has some brilliant features from both of his xx bandmates, and even some totally unexpected appearances from two of 2015's hottest acts Young Thug and Popcaan. This gives the album a diverse and fluid sound which without a doubt makes the best way to experience the album as one coherent piece of art, from start to finish. Each track feels expertly crafted to maximise the impact it has the moment it appears and to leave the listener somewhat awestruck.
Whether you were already a fan or not, you will no doubt be familiar with the anthemic pop masterpiece 'I Know There's Gonna' Be Good Times', which charted at number 1 in multiple markets around the world. With features from Young Thug at the height of his popularity and an up-and-coming Popcaan, the track provides a breath of fresh air towards the album's conclusion and is a total departure from the somewhat subdued nature of the rest of the record.
To this day In Colour remains Jamie xx's only full-length solo record, but it was one that was so masterfully executed it will forever be remembered as one of the shining moments of modern electronic music. It might be easy to understate the impact this album had just three years on from its release, but as time progresses In Colour will no doubt be regarded as the astonishing contribution to the history of electronic music that is is.
Check out In Colour in full below.