We’re All Under One Roof Raving[/quote]
There are few albums I’ve looked forward to in recent years as much as the solo debut of Jamie XX (Jamie Smith); SBTRKT’s “Wonder Where We Land”, Bombay Bicycle Club’s “So Long See You Tomorrow” and basically anything from Flying Lotus. But I’ve been proclaiming the greatness of this album before it was even conceived.
Once upon a time, there was this band called ‘The XX’. The band innovated a new type of indie-tronica; whispery, reverbed-to-all-hell vocals over clean guitar and bass licks, topped off with minimalist and esoterically brilliant production. Some would later call this the re-emergence of “dream pop” or music to shoe gaze to. The XX are basically the thinking bohemian’s answer to mass produced commerce pop. (For full disclosure, I may be typing this from my desk which is situated below a poster of the band’s famous “solitary X” logo, which I received in my limited vinyl sleeve of their debut album, including Jamie’s collaboration with GIl-Scott Heron “We’re New Here” fresh off my turntable. Yes, I also may have pre-ordered the limited vinyl of “In Colour”.) You may say I’m slightly biased, which from the evidence presented above, has a slight chance of being true. But I will risk my entire journalistic career on the fact that this is one of the best albums of the year, and my favourite album of 2015 thus far.
Some would say that the success of The XX was grounded on the fact that Jamie Smith’s skills as a producer and pseudo-drum machinist were so up to par they were a hole-in-one from the start. Golf metaphors aside, he has come a very long way from the whispery bedroom antics of a 17 year old. Solid remixes and a fantastic collaboration with legendary blues and jazzman Gil-Scott Heron already set Jamie apart from most of the electronic music scene, but fans waited with (deservedly) bated breath for a solo album, to see what Smith could do when the shackles and conformity of remixes were removed and the extra time to fully flesh out an LP. As a long time aficionado and homager of the UK house music scene, Smith drops hints of his natural element in all his other works, but this is the first time we really see him immersed in the glorious rapture of it. “In Colour” isn’t a revival of UK dance music, it’s a revitalization and celebration of it. From start to finish this album pays homage to this great club culture, making its own mark before reinventing it once more.
Where’s the lighter massive?
All the way from London town
Few recent electronic albums have such a high level of consistent quality as this one. Opening with the club enthused Gosh, Smith sets up one of the most confident and technically proficient openings since Mount Kimbie’s “Cold Spring Faultless Youth”. Many of the tracks seem like the standard Jamie XX affair; minimalist steel drum plucks, the ever present hip-hop and soul enthused vocal cut, and the airy reverb carry overs from The XX, but the album is far from cliché. A track like The Rest Is Noise, one of the highlights, containing so many varying and evolving elements over its four minutes that it achieves a Jon Hopkins-esque level of building rapture.
Just as refreshing are the co-produced joints on the album, with UK electronica veteran Kieran Hebden or “Four Tet” to the uninitiated. Bringing in some signature break beat sampling and ‘arpeggi-all-over-the-place’ melodic runs make SeeSaw a stand out in its own right, transforming what could have been another The XX-alike song into a sonically unique send up to multiple dance genres.
Both of Jamie’s bandmates feature on the album. Guitarist and female lead Romy Madley Croft, featuring on the aforementioned SeeSaw as well as Loud Places (and I suspect having done some extra guitar work on the album), and bassist and male vocalist Oliver Sim, working on Stranger in a Room. Although a solid song that contains an interesting, dark and dreamy aesthetic, it is a shame that it’s so completely overshadowed by basically everything else on the album. But on an album of standout tracks, solid is out of place.
Any one of these songs alone show the talent of the UK producer: Loud Places is a catchy, harmonious, almost indie piece that actually represents what The XX could have been if they took on a Florence + the Machine pop vibe. Amazing vocal work and terrific production lead into what may be the track of the album, if not year. Likewise, I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), featuring Young Thug and Popcaan, is a refreshing Hip-Hop intermission that shows that the UK house head could hold his own on any rap label. As is his forte, Smith illustrates his glorious sample choice with a sample from The Persuasions; joyous 1972 vibes enthusing this minimalist and modernist answer to a west coast beat. Young Thug seems more at home with these playful melodic beats than the rest of his trap enthused back catalogue, and with the whole song is so confident, sound and elegant, I would listen to a whole album of just this pairing.
Although there are several returning tracks from the Jamie XX EPs, such as Girl and Sleep Sound, they fit so well into the album’s high standards that you wonder what impact they would have had hearing them for the first time. A humbling experience no doubt, for any electronic entrepreneurs. A critic could argue that Smith is just pulling a Todd Terje; a “let’s just assemble all the EPs onto one album and go out for lunch” sort of affair. Far from it. I can’t imagine these songs being in any other collection than with “In Colour”. Sleep Sound is so monumentally Jamie XX in its vocal cutting, minimal drum filtering and melodic steel drum that it’s almost nostalgic to hear it again. And with swinging drums, fantastically auto-filtered vocal cuts and a bouncy baseline, Girl being the perfect book-end to the album. Synth work and sound spacing on this track is on another level to anything else this year. If Gosh was the show opener, then Girl is the showstopper, bringing the album back to its peak and leaving you wanting so much more.
This is to the Champagne Crew:
We do not need anybody,
we are independent
Overall, this album holds together so well as a cohesive soundscape that I’m in awe. From start to finish whether you play singular songs, sets of them, or hear it on the radio, you always come away with the same conclusion that this is a fantastic example of how far electronic music has come over the years. Some might say this is the intelligent person’s dance music, and that’s a claim I would not refute one bit. But this is just dance music. From the grimy UK club to the Ibizan beach to the GAP, Hot Topic and more. This is an album for anyone who ever had a tertiary interest in electronic music, up there with “Immunity”, “James Blake” “There is Love in You”, and of course, “We’re New Here”. Despite reinforcing the cliché, there really is something for everyone.
I heavily insist that the album should be listened to all in one sitting. Don’t get me wrong, belting out specific tracks will get any party or kitchen dance floor started. But sonically, aesthetically, thematically, musically and even artistically, it should be your duty to try it at least once. Even if you don’t appreciate “alternative” electronic music, a musical journey will ensue where you will discover a lot about this album, yourself, and what you think about UK house music in 2015. Because we just reached its pinnacle. The Rest is Noise.