The producer pays his dues to dance's past masters on euphoric debut album
Jamie xx (real name Jamie Smith) began a 2014 Boiler Room set with a track that shouted out many of the past gods of UK dance (Carl Cox, Fabio, Jumping Jack Frost and others) and there’s much about his work as a producer, remixer and DJ that’s concerned with paying his dues, while also updating the music in a typically tasteful way. The 27-year-old’s debut solo album, ‘In Colour’, begins with a fine track called ‘Gosh’ that samples drum’n’bass MCs from an unaired mid-‘90s BBC Radio 1 ‘One In The Jungle’ pilot, but you can also hear 18-year-old grime rapper/producer Novelist laughing at the end of ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, putting ‘In Colour’ in a contemporary context.
As you’d imagine from a producer famed for being a member of minimalist indie pop band The xx, ‘Gosh’ is an almost brutally simple song that adds the sample from the Radio 1 pilot and a siren-like, two-fingers-maximum keyboard line to a shuffling beat and ultra-basic bassline. Less has always been more with Smith, and the success of ‘In Colour’ lies in his gift for melding together very few elements to create songs that are original, surprising and highly effective. The melodic steel drums first heard on his 2011 single ‘Far Nearer’ make a return on ‘Obvs’, an even more straightforward and spacious piece of music that somehow – as with ‘Sleep Sound’, ‘Hold Tight’ and ‘Girl’ – manages to sound warm, euphoric and far grander than seems immediately possible.
There’s fun to be had working out what this record means for the next xx album. Bandmates Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim contribute vocals to three songs (Romy: ‘SeeSaw’, ‘Loud Places’; Oliver: ‘Stranger In A Room’) suggesting a less gloomy (the album’s called ‘In Colour’ for a reason), more electronic R&B direction, although you could equally guess at a housey, softcore-rave feel. Atlanta rapper Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan – the only other guests – trade verses on ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, a track that might have been included to give a distinctly London-soundng record some US appeal. Nonetheless, on an album defined by its creator making perfect choices, it fits, and you’d never know that Jamie cobbled ‘In Colour’ together on downtime over the last seven years.