We’ve waited seven long years for Jamie xx to bestow us with his debut album In Colour. Amidst the hyper anticipation, with us uttering “I tell you, this is the year he’ll release it” only for another December 31st to roll around with the heaviest sighs emitted across the globe.
Jamie Smith, one-third of the genius behind Mercury Prize winner The xx (some argue he is the mastermind behind the band’s success), has proved himself as an electronic production powerhouse to be reckoned with. Ask any up-and-coming producer whom they look up to in the scene and, chances are, you’ll hear Jamie’s name slip into conversation.
We’ve known and elevated him to become a near-deified producer but Smith doesn’t see himself that way – his technique to writing music doesn’t come naturally to him, and he spends most of his time carefully crafting each of his tracks, solo or otherwise. He won’t like a song until he, himself, is jumping around his room excitedly, and only then does he release it or use it in a DJ set. He’s honed his craft as a non-naturalist a la Kenton Slash Demon and Shigeto with practice and extreme attention to detail. In each of his meticulously crafted tracks, which are both simple in composition but densely executed, every moment of sound and silence is there with clear purpose.
Fast forward years of singles, mini EPs, a gorgeous collaboration with the late Gil Scott-Heron, and secret DJ sets around the world, Smith finally delivered In Colour. When it was released as a streamable visual album I held back from listening to it, waiting for the official release so I could listen to In Colour on my own terms. With eager anticipation and my ears strained to take in what was sure to be a magnanimous experience, I sat on my chair and let the sounds take over.
What I didn’t anticipate was how disappointed and unfulfilled I would feel after playing it through. Surely it was just that one play through, right? Maybe the album would grow on me if I played it a few more times?
But it didn’t.
At first, I couldn’t quite place where my distaste for In Colour stemmed from. Was it from the over-hype and weight I put on what a solo debut album from Jamie xx should’ve delivered? With time, however, I realized my biggest problem with In Colour was the way he arranged the track list. Starting with “Gosh,” one of the greatest stand-out singles he’s released in recent memory, I was subsequently disappointed with the way the album progressed. He even shared alternate mixes on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show which blew the original arrangement out of the water.
“No,” I thought, “he should’ve put ‘Gosh’ at the end, opened with ‘Obvs,’ separated the Romy and Oliver songs, and let In Colour showcase as a tribute to the UK and his homesick nostalgia.”
In Colour is an album drenched in UK history, from underground club scenes, original UK dubstep, nostalgic rave culture, soul, and Jamaican-Caribbean influences which made for a historical album. With that theme in mind, I couldn’t help but miss ‘All Under One Roof Raving,’ a track Smith wrote while touring extensively and longing for London. In interviews about In Colour, Smith said he delivered on an album because he had all the tracks available as singles and could put together a relatively cohesive album since he wanted to finally finish the tracks. This, I realized, is why I couldn’t vibe fully with In Colour. It was clearly an album strung together with weak threads linking each track into a holistic idea. The mixing shifted with certain songs, like shortening ‘Sleep Sound’ and creating an outro to seamlessly segue into ‘SeeSaw’.
The collaborations, co-writers, and co-producers of In Colour are legitimately stacked. Four Tet, Alicia Keys, Popcaan, Erlend Oye, and Brian Wilson all have credits for the album, with even more deep cut writers on it. These collaborators have deep respect and clear penchant for each of their respective production qualities – minimalism and nostalgic house, soul, dancehall, indie pop, and rock. Mixed with Smith’s adoration for steel drums, In Colour had the potential to be a game-changing electronic album but it fell short, even with a diverse set of sounds.
Don’t get me wrong, the production is almost painfully perfect. Every song leaves an impression of bittersweet beauty and lush fantasies leading me to exclaim after each track finished “how did he do that?!” before sitting back in complete disbelief. But putting that aside, what I grew to expect out of a member of The xx is someone who could put out an album of cohesive thought and a threaded idea. The re-arrangement I personally made of In Colour gave me that closure of UK history and thorough understanding of the electronic rave world he grew up in.
Perhaps I’m being hard on Smith, because putting aside my furrowed brow and extensive rants, In Colour is an exceptional album for anyone who isn’t Jamie xx. Just as I was disappointed with Watch The Throne because of who created it and my exceedingly high expectations, I was similarly let-down with In Colour.
With that, though, I can say this is an album I’ll play for a long time, especially at the end of a long night with friends, spinning it in the background while we lazily watch dawn peek on the horizon. Until then, I’ll be watching his Boiler Room sets and sipping on tea.
Some stand-out tracks from the album include ‘Sleep Sound,’ ‘Gosh,’ ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise.’
Editor Rupa Jogani’s re-arrangement of In Colour:
Stranger In A Room
I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)
The Rest Is Noise
Rupa Jogani was pretty underwhelmed with In Colour. Tell her what you think of it on Twitter: @r_jogani