Monday, June 1, 2015

Jamie xx - In Colour Review

I've never been too keen on the aesthetic of The XX's, despite acknowledging the appeal most have with them. Apart from a handful of tracks, like the memorable 'Intro,' they typically cause more lulling than intrigue on my behalf. Suffice to say the latest project from the group's producer, Jamie xx, wasn't on my radar. Thankfully for me, as the title and cover allude to, things here are much more vibrant, lush, and capable of filling the cold holes littering The XX's two albums. The foundation on which In Colour is built relies on select sonic tropes to relay its output, but effectively branches off by including a bevy of influences in the dance scene. Whereas old age electronic dance manufactured beats in accordance with technology's rigid structure, incorporating endless loops and ritualistic build-ups, the new age aims at sparking a breath of humanity into the mix. To put it succinctly, where Caribou's 2014 release Our Love aimed at disguising red, orange, and yellow as music, In Colour does so with purple, green, and blue, creating a synesthetic world that blossoms in every crease of Jamie xx's hollowed soundscapes.

There's nothing more poignant this album has to offer than its deceptive intro, 'Gosh.' What emerges initially as a quirky dance number with counteracting hi-hats, sort of amateurish sample pillaging, and a bulging bass morphs into a kaleidoscopic adventure with the mere addition of a synth melody, one that transforms into a makeshift guitar solo. It's this appreciation of the absurd that makes the highs of In Colour worthy of repetition. This, unsurprisingly, brings me to the standout track, not because it's the best but merely because it mares Jamie xx's signature style with a half Reggaeton, half Soul chorus, chopped up 50's doo-wop samples and Young Thug. Yup. It's a bizarre combination and yet it fails to fall under the weight of its own ambition. 'I Know It's Gonna Be (Good Times)' stirs the melting pot, causing a fiendish concoction of the perfect summer jam. Not all of this zaniness works though, take for instance 'Obvs.' At its core the track is sufficient enough, pulling in a variety of backbones to form its initial melody that entrances listeners, but you can't help but feel it's missing something, namely vocal accompaniment. The Hawaiian luau theme that forcibly clings to its cliche provides spark initially but, as its allure wears off so does its appeal.

What's lost on In Colour is its coherency, a sacrifice that seemed predetermined due to a larger goal. While not apparent off the bat, Jamie xx's project relives a plethora of dance genres, with influences ranging from Moby to Burial to Hudson Mohawke to the Chromatics. Each song seems to pinpoint a select moment in dance music, not abiding by a chronological timeline. Everything from Rave ('The Rest Is Noise') to Glitch Hop ('Gosh') to Trance ('Hold Tight') to Big Beat ('Loud Places') to Party Anthems ('I Know') is present. It's an artistic decision that largely pays off, for intwined within these tracks are downtempo ballads that help smooth the edges, with help from The XX vocalist Romy. The focus always remains on Jamie xx though, as these songs stand apart from the typical XX catalog with charming vocal samples and a comparatively explosive set of sounds. There's no denying Romy's singing prowess though, her soft swoons on 'Loud Places' competes with a rambunctious soul sample about reaching new heights whilst she takes her chances finding a lover. Oliver Sim makes an appearance too on 'Stranger In A Room,' echoing her sentiments in search of a moment to himself in a crowded world where everyone knows you.

These are two of the four vocal tracks on In Colour, making its vocal assortment a welcomed change of pace whilst not overbearing the listener with messages and meanings. In reality the album is a dance record through and through, content on providing hypnotic beats and elusive sonic instrumentation without a hinderance on lyrics. As mentioned before, In Colour could be the yin/yang pairing of Caribou's Our Love, completing the rainbow wheel with more subdued textures. Everything here is padded with Jamie xx's hollowed drum set and airy exteriors, leaving room to breathe, even for some of the album's more elevated moments. The mesmerizing synths swirling in the background of 'The Rest Is Noise' and the metallic bouncy balls causing a chaotic riff on 'Seesaw' are just some examples of how pristine Jamie xx's production sounds despite the complexity. Some moments are too clean though, too satisfied with their current output that nothing everlasting latches onto the listener, especially whilst surrounded by worthy contenders. 'Girl' is one of these, ending the album on a bittersweet note of complacency without any spark on ingenuity, prominently featuring a mundane drum loop and synth line that never intends to evolve. One other that fails to be memorable is 'Sleep Sound,' largely due to its sandwiching between two of In Colour's best tracks.

Speaking in broadened terms, Jamie xx's solo release is a breath of continued fresh air, profiting off the revival of delectably spellbinding dance music that utilizes computerized harmonies despite failing to relinquish the humanistic charge creating them. Voices litter the landscape, including mumbled chatter concluding a handful of these songs, further emphasizing the dance floor vibe In Colour presents. It sends vibrant, calming tunes through its sound waves, wafting through the hazy, smoke-filled club as it attempts to illicit every modern electronic dance groove known to man, succeeding with the defiant majority. For as audacious of an approach In Colour is, Jamie xx never complicates things as each puzzle piece lies in place, barely caressing the rest in terms of electric ambience, all serving a purpose to fulfill his objective. What makes his latest release even more encompassing is its replay value, with a widespread field to pick from you'll never be at a loss for sustainability. In Colour, apart from a few slight hiccups, confirms Jamie xx's placement as one of the best electronic producers in today's age, able to mold sub-genres at will, able to contain Romy in that sonic split, and able to allow Young Thug to rap "I'm gonna ride in that pussy like a stroller" over your grandma's oldie's.

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