Coming across not so much a remix album as a collaboration of sorts, this pairing of shamanic stalwart with savvy boy wonder is nothing if not interesting. From the first drop, half way through opener ‘I’m New Here’, you can tell exactly what you’re going to get over the course of this rather special album.
Built around the enigmatic voice of Gil Scott-Heron, Jamie xx repositions that unmistakable sound amidst a wash of deeper-than-deep bass and propulsive beats. The atmosphere is central to proceedings, with the over-arching sense of claustrophobia holding everything together. Heavy on the low-end, the album is dank and sweaty with two eyes clearly set on the dance floor. The beats and bass are classic dub, though the leads often hint at trance or house, and the use of stretched and pitched vocal samples cement the albums place in the ever-developing dubstep cannon.
The only real streak of light at all is ‘My Cloud’, an immaculately side-chained slice of pure chill. Scott-Heron’s vocals are at their most soulful and romantic, sounding like something Marvin Gaye might have been quite pleased with. These relaxed, come hither lines are floated out on top of a bed of pulsing bass, white-noise and subtly moving keyboard lines. The song is a standout, and not just for its difference in tone. The quieter sections are as emotive as any classic soul ballad you care to name and the rise in energy during the middle is vigorously impassioned.
After a brief interlude, one of four, comes ‘The Crutch’. This songs is slightly different too and great for it. Where its bass end retains that London feel, the beat is true post-Dilla material, sounding closer to Brainfeeder artists like Flying Lotus or Anticon acts like Odd Nosdam or BATHS. The spoken word vocals create a deep-seated sense of tension, dry and terse in the middle of the crazed hip-hop beat and stuttering vocal samples.
In the end, it’s tracks like ‘Your Soul And Mine” and ‘NY Is Killing Me’ that have the most immediate impact, being the most clear dance floor fodder, in the best way possible. Both are dark, repetitive numbers, bringing out the groove in Jamie’s loops. They function as the bangers of the group, making no bones about their straightforward nature. The two-step bounce of the latter is irresistible and, if your head isn’t nodding before the off-beat, triplet hi-hats come in, they certainly will be after. The bass squelches around while the lead line pings high above it, straight from the rave handbook. Scott-Heron’s voice echoes in the space between the notes, introducing each new variation announcing the drops. It’s dance music at it’s most direct; filthy and uplifting at the same time.
The entire album is somewhat summed up in final track ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’. Combining the power and soul of Scott-Heron’s vocals with the rhythmic ingenuity of his young collaborator, its hand claps and keys give way to a distinctly-XX guitar line. It has everything going for it, bringing together all the aspects of its creators into one beautiful four-and-a-half-minute package. Its a little happier than many of the tracks that preceded it and you get a sense of the love that no doubt went into crafting this record, at every level.
It’s not the most cohesive record in the world, but it’s not meant to be. There’s just enough of a footprint in each track to keep them close, but every song works perfectly by itself and they are purposefully separated here with the series of short interludes that gives each its own power and space. This seems like Jamie’s way of making sure that Scott-Heron’s voice remains the most important aspect of the work and that, more than anything else, shows this as a labour of love and respect for a old master of “music you can jump up and down on”.