‘In Colour’ is proving to be one of the most divisive albums of the year. The debut solo album from Jamie xx (aka Jamie Smith), best known for his work with band The xx as well as various remixes, it has been hailed as a masterpiece by much of the music press. Dance aficionados, however, have ripped it to shreds.
It’s true that ‘In Colour’ is somewhat derivative. Smith has been heavily influenced by dance music from the 80s and 90s – there are clear elements of jungle, trance, garage and house in much of the album. Opener Gosh, for instance, feels like a typical jungle track featuring repetitive clattering beats and an overused vocal sample – that is until the introduction of a single synth line later on. Elsewhere the album is trance-like to a fault: the appropriately titled Sleep Sound, or the noisy industrial Hold Tight.
Yet this isn’t really an album of dance music for dance music fans. The tempo is too relaxed, the production is too clean, the beat and bass drops never hit home. Instead this has been carefully crafted to take typically underground styles of dance music in a new direction, one that’s arguably more tasteful and commercial. It’s the sort of dance album you won’t actually be listening to in the club, though it’s no less euphoric. For some, ‘In Colour’ is empty and soulless; for others it’s delicate and polished. After all, the same sense of minimalism here has been praised by fans of The xx – now that’s simply been applied to dance music.
Is making dance music more palatable necessarily a bad thing? It’s been the main criticism of the album, but is that not how music develops? Taking one genre and making it appropriate for a different audience?
To that end, those tracks closer to the pop/commercial end of the spectrum are the most successful. Lead single Loud Places, with bandmate Romy, is a heady tune of shimmering production and lush vocal harmonies, destined to be one of the top songs at festivals this summer. It’s followed by I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) that puts a reggae spin on Smith’s style and features vocals from Young Thug and Popcaan (and some questionable lyrics). Romy also features on the hypnotic SeeSaw, whilst fellow bandmate Oliver Sim features on Stranger In A Room that includes the band’s typically reverbed guitars. Girl eventually ends the album on a woozy, mesmeric note. The more you listen and the further into the album you get, the better it sounds.
It’s notable, then, that the best tracks also feature Smith’s xx bandmates. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for a solo album, but like The xx he’s created a body of work that’s divisive and could well be tipped for the Mercury Prize. After all, he’s got ‘xx’ in his name for a reason.
* Loud Places
Listen: ‘In Colour’ is available now.