If we’re talking moods, Jamie xx’s In Colour is a somewhat confusing record to dissect. It deals with themes of heartbreak, infatuation and frustration yet underneath it runs a thread of euphoria which delicately arrests it from being a dark record. Jamie xx is aware of that. He’s packaged it as In Colour and obviously had no intention for it to be a depressing listen. And he’s been successful. Even at its saddest points, In Colour sound hopeful. At the end you’re left feeling warm.
To help guide you through this journey of fluctuating emotions we’ve taken a mood ring to the record, handing each song a different colour.
Before we start we should offer you some required reading to help understand the juxtaposition between the sad and happy of the record. “Usually at the start of making something, I'm purposely being in solitude and feeling a bit sad and emotional for the sake of making music. But by the time that I've started making something that I like, that instantly turns to euphoria and joy,” Jamie xx wrote in The Fader. It’s the most poignant way to describe the two moods of In Colour and has helped inform our journey through it.
The opening track of In Colour is also the one that has its feet most firmly planted in the sounds of the UK club scene. It’s frantic and yet beautiful. Anxious yet euphoric. This track displays Jamie xx’s greatest strength and that is to take any mood and place some sort of climatic clarity or eventual happiness on it. Even though the start of Gosh is defined by crowded jungle-influences at the end the synths emerge and bring with it a beautiful cleanliness. It’s as if the whole song is a telescope being tuned into focus and by the track’s end, everything is crystal clear, where it remains for the most part of the record.
In terms of production, Sleep Sound maintains Gosh’s crispness but the mood of it descends into a subconscious dream state of half-formed thought and undefined words. The vocal sample is murky but soulful while the beat that runs alongside it is pulsating as if there’s a strobe flicking thoughts at you every millisecond. It channels that same dreamstate you enter when you’re one of the last people left at the club in the early morning and the lights, sounds and atmosphere mould into each other. It’s disorientating, heartbreaking and yet at the same time it’s the most relaxed you’ll ever feel.
Romy’s first appearance on the album has a totally different atmosphere to the album’s single Loud Places. As per usual, Romy’s voice is mournful but it’s surrounded by these chaotic beats that feel as if something is weighing heavy on the mind. Jamie xx is a master of multi-layered moods and wherever there’s a feeling of worry, it’s somehow supported by a deep-synth in the background that gives some sense of everything being okay. Perhaps In Colour’s greatest strength is its ability to create feelings of emotional euphoria amongst crushing lows influenced by the ups and downs of a relationship. Seesaw is about a broken-heart but it ends with fluttering keys that elate instead of dampen.
When Jamie xx dropped his first notable solo track Feel Better, the difference between his own stuff and his production with The xx was immediately clear. Obvs has that same feeling. It opens with the most tropical sounding synth of the album, bringing with it the record’s most explicit display of joy. For the first time In Colour sounds serene and at odds with itself. It’s the most multi-coloured track on the album and the one that’s most likely to throw festival crowd’s arms into the air in a moment frozen in time. Obvs is a slow-motion depiction of momentary happiness.
Just Saying is the shortest song on the album and the most uncharacteristic of In Colour. It’s bound by no beat and feels as if you’re caught in some kind of haze waiting to step into clarity once again.
The clarity is delivered by the bottomless vocals of Oliver Sim on Stranger In A Room. In some ways it’s strange that Jamie xx eventually released a solo album given that his interviews and live sets show him to be reserved - the type that would want to go
In that sense, there’s a certain paranoia to this song. The flickering synths that hover below Sim’s voice are disorientating. A beat never enters into the track to relive the feeling of tension that’s built-up. There’s a darkness to the track. It’s like there’s one single character in a room who would rather be lost in a crowd than be the sole subject on the dancefloor.
Hold Tight captures the feeling of oscillating between being stressed and excited. It retains the tension of Stranger In A Room but reintroduces a percussive beat for the first time in two songs and ramps up the tempo with a jungle-inspired rhythm which re-introduces the excitement back into the record. This is one of a handful of songs on the album that captures Jamie’s nostalgia for the British club scene. It’s distinctively grungy and warehouse-like with that feeling of a working class revolution.
In many ways this, and pre-album single All Under One Roof Raving, feel like an uprising in the same kind of way as the British punk movement. Everyone heads to the club to express themselves with whatever music they feel defines them and when a group of likeminded people find themselves in the same place dancing to the same music, the feeling is kinetic. Many music genres particularly in London have had to fight for their right to exist (grime, punk, jungle) and Hold Tight captures that communal spirit.
The mood ring may have been a little off when it was trying to read Loud Places. Essentially the Romy-featuring song is about the period after a relationship when you’ve fallen from giddy-heights. But here Romy has post-relationship feelings of sorrow and nostalgia while the other party has branched-out in search of new horizons.
Loud Places is a song that hits you right in the gut. It’s jealous because it’s painfully aware that it’s on the backfoot in terms of the prior relationship but it’s still heartbreakingly beautiful. It captures the very essence of the dancefloor harbouring a lot of collective heartbreak. In a full club you can completely lose yourself and your own feelings amongst the noise. Loud Places covers off both that feeling of infinite joy, through the “I have never reached such heights” vocal sample, and deep loneliness via the mournful guitar-line.
“You’re in ecstasy without me, when you come down I won’t be around,” Romy sings at the end, somehow taking comfort in the knowledge that the ex-lover’s high can’t last.
I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) is the most explicit joyful track on the record. Beginning with an uplifting The Persuasions sample it continues to keep the good times rolling with Young Thug and Popcaan who sound completely elated. Once again Jamie xx is flirting with sounds of the tropics bringing the steel drums out in full force. It’s the type of song that’s meant to be consumed in the company of other people. A song that can instantly change your mood in a matter of minutes. Despite its obvious stylistic differences to the rest of the record, Jamie manages to make it effortlessly blend in and that’s because while the tempo may change up, he’s still working with his usual toolbox - steel drums, soulful vocal samples and euphoric synths.
He may not be loud in terms of aggressively campaigning for its continued survival but Jamie xx is obviously very passionate about the London club scene. In just about every interview preceding this record, he’s talked about his experiences with the scene and while he’s noted his issues with it he’s spoken mostly about it with a heartwarming fondness. The Rest Is Noise sounds like Jamie xx in his element. It’s a warm sounding tune that’s been created for the London clubs even if he’s on the other side of the world. It feels like a passionate and proud reference of the scene that he grew up in. He told Pitchfork in a recent interview, “Listening to music that reminded me of home was a good way to feel happy about feeling sad,” and The Rest Is Noise captures those two modes perfectly.
“The most beautiful girl in Hackney,” is the most distinctive vocal sample of the closer to the album, Girl. It’s a song of infatuation. One where you’ve seen the girl of your dreams and will stop at nothing to get her. Nothing else that happens that night matters. Drinks will swell, people will talk and you’ll dance, however, the whole time your mind is on one thing. It feels like there could be two alternate endings to In Colour, you get the girl or you don’t get the girl. For a record that so carefully treads a line between happiness and heartbreak it seems only apt that we get to make the choice.
Jamie xx's In Colour will be released this Friday 29th May via Young Turks/Remote Control Records.
In the meantime, you can stream via iTunes Radio First Play.