In Colour, the first solo LP from Jamie xx (Jamie Smith), has certainly been a long time coming. Not one to rest on his laurels with the success of 2011’s groundbreaking Gil Scott-Heron collaboration/remix/thing of beauty We’re New Here, the elusive producer has spent his time painstakingly becoming something of a tastemaker since, with a plethora of remixes and tidbits all shrouded in his enigmatic vail of melancholia, but delightfully chart-worthy nonetheless. A producer’s producer, you might say, given the intensive body of work he’s been involved with over the past four years.
This backbone of creative expansion is what drives In Colour, and as the title might suggest, the content within is a varied palette peppered with vibrancy and awash with immediate confidence. ‘Gosh’ for example, the opening track, commands the attention of the ear from the off. The rhythm is built on simple, precise drums and the melody influenced by a deep throb of a bass-line, with an ethereal, sharp and whistling crescendo, Smith does well in setting the tone for an album that quickly becomes very danceable and very enjoyably so.
‘Sleep Sound’ showcases Smith’s arrangement chops, with an increasingly syncopated rhythmical melody that drifts in and around a laid-back, shuffling break, but builds and expands from its vocal base to subtle synth hits. So far, so good, so sine waves. The immediacy with which the track falls into ‘See Saw’ (ft. Romy) is both intelligently executed and compositionally sound, with the previous beats morphing heartily into a more aggressive set of breaks, the melody becoming edgier and airy, and Romy’s vocals far-off and pained. It’s familiar territory, given her status as Smith’s longtime bandmate and collaborator. In one respect, the track drifts atmospherically along and in another, it’s forceful groove should ensure the club treatment with immediate effect. It’s deep enough to do the rounds without losing the credibility of production it carries.
‘Obvs’ is…surprising. In a good way, though. It’s not inconceivable to picture our subject standing before a set of steel drums and taking command of an Akai MPC, a microphone, and bashing them all together. The end result culminating in a track that manages to transition between the chirpy and upbeat to the downtrodden and introspective, all tied up neatly with a delicate, pulsing kick-beat. Smith’s comfort with collaboration is also apparent throughout. ‘See Saw’, ‘Stranger in a Room’ and ‘Loud Places’ feature the talents of the already remarked upon Romy as well as other bandmate Oliver Sim, and the atmosphere Smith is able to create harks back at times to the collective music of The xx, but with the additional nuances of a producer who, for the most part, has spread his wings.
Smith strikes the balance with ease, and furthers the collaborative work with ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ which features Young Thug and Popcaan. The end result is a decidedly modern pop effort that rings with R&B and a slightly off-kilter reggae influence. It’s fairly far removed from the overarching tonality of the record, but it’s a smart inclusion, regardless of whether it will appeal to everybody’s tastes. ‘Girl’, bringing the album to a close is heavy, chugging and gracefully melodic and makes an impressive impact with its downtempo, abrupt finale, in comparison to the fluidity that runs through the album.
For his first, full solo offering, In Colour is not only a reminder of the work that Jamie Smith has compiled on his journey so far, but a showcase of the depth and breadth of his production talents and his ear for a well-rounded collection. Contender for album of the year so far? Probably, and deservedly so.