As a member and major producing force behind the music of the xx, Jamie xx has seen through two albums with the band, the second of which reached the top 10 in various countries. While he’s been releasing remixes since 2009 and completely remixed Gil-Scott Heron’s 2010 album I’m New Here a year after its release, he had refrained from releasing his own studio album. In Colour, his debut studio album, is here to change that.
The production of the album will be familiar to anyone who has experienced Jamie’s remixes before. The songs all feature a minimalist approach, with songs usually focusing almost entirely on the beat, enhanced with light vocals and vocal samples, or focusing on the melodies and vocals with the beat taking a back seat. The songs featuring guest vocalist, most of which are his band mates from the xx, tend to be the more mainstream variety, with proper structures and more pop influence, while the rest often remain more fluid in their structure and have more of a house influence.
SeeSaw, which features vocals from Romy Madley Croft of the xx, is the only vocal track that focuses less on the guest and more on the beats, acting as the best example of the minimalistic house tracks. Romy’s vocals are hushed and muted, often blending with the beat as they are put under more processing effects, keeping the focus on the beat and the synth melodies surrounding it. The vocals act as the perfect complement to the beat, rather than detracting from it.
The other vocal tracks stand out in varying ways. Stranger In A Room, featuring Oliver Sim of the xx, has no beats and instead features skipping synths and guitar as an accompaniment to Oliver’s vocals. Loud Places, another track featuring Romy, acts as a middle point between the two styles, swapping between minimal sections that focus on her vocals and sections that instead feature the beat. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), featuring Young Thug and Popcaan, features minimal beats and instead focuses on the rapping and singing of its guests to carry the song. They’re all less engaging than SeeSaw, but still mark the better points of the album.
The instrumental songs are hit and miss. Obvs, featuring synthetic steel drums as its focus with a simpler beat over the top, stands out and remains interesting mostly because of its unusual lead instrument. The Rest Is Noise moves between a simple beat and a piano-only section, weaving echoing piano and wordless vocals in and out of the song to keep from repeating itself too much, which it does successfully. The rest of the songs feature no real hook to keep them stuck in your head, which is an issue when they make up over half of the album.
As a debut album from Jamie xx, this is exactly what you’d expect. His style is entirely intact, but it doesn’t step ahead of his past work or feel like an evolution of it in any way. His songs definitely feel more interesting when written around a vocal hook or lyrics in general, and more guests could have helped the album overall. As it stands, In Colour isn’t groundbreaking, but its high moments keep it from failing.