I once put complexity on a pedestal, believing that it was the only way to feel truly alive, and the mastery of it was the only true signifier of talent. But the older I get, the concept of minimalism is getting steadily more appealing. Too much clutter does not allow for space to move, to breathe or to be, and in this fast-paced world we need these things now more than ever before. Producer Jaime Smith is better known under the moniker Jamie XX, and his debut album In Colour captures the ethos of minimalism in an exciting and quietly elegant way.
Smith began DJing aged 15 at a Jazz and Soul bar in Camden, London, however his style changed a few years later after a night out in London’s famous Plastic People nightclub where he truly discovered dance music which set him on his trajectory to become one of the most quietly significant artists of the last decade. As one third of The XX their 2009 self-titled debut was noughties indie-rock expertly tempered with coolly restrained trip-hop beats and earned them a Mercury award as well as international adulation. Jaime XX solidified this status two years later with his remix of the late, legendary jazz-soul poet Gil-Scott Heron’s final album We’re New Here. Saturating backbeats with a luscious reverb and beautiful vocal samples, Jaime XX reinforced the power of silence in contemporary music, crafting music that was intimately distant and has arguably become an essential component of contemporary music.
In Colour is a culmination of the last 6-odd years of Jaime XX’s career to date. It is an eclectic mixture that oscillate between ballads and bangers with a host of collaborators including XX bandmate Romy Madley-Croft in the transcendent ‘Loud Places. ’It is a song that captures much about what this album is about. Melancholic lyrics are abound in In Colour, and ‘Loud Places’ is ‘How Soon Is Now’ for the millennials. Hushed and intimate, Romy breathily intones “I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with, who will take me home.” It’s enough to make Morrissey weep. As the music ebbs, flows, and builds around her voice the track gives away to the elegiacally languid mood that comes with being momentarily swathed in sound as you and a thousand strangers move together on the dancefloor. This is swiftly followed by a more conventional floor-filler, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times).” Featuring rapper Young Thug and Dancehall artist Popcaan, this risky song is pulled off with aplomb.
However, the name ‘In Colour’ complete with its deliciously hyperbolic cover art, is perhaps a little misleading. Rather, In Colour gives the listener a sense of aural chiaroscuro and is equal parts glitter and grime. This is best shown in Obvs, an understated standout of the album. Using the steel drum (an instrument fast becoming synonymous with Jaime XX) the producer crafts a song that smacks of a paradise lost, where a sense of elation is restrained by the knowledge that it is a transient thing. Much like a night out. While In Colour is seen as a homage to the last 20 years of London’s club culture, this is not music you listen to after taking a few poppers and lose your shit to. It’s more nuanced than that.
To followers of his sound, this record does not break any new ground, but this doesn’t make it any less mesmerising or accomplished. Ironically, it is not simple to keep things simple; it requires a substantial amount of careful thought to be able to cull unnecessary elements in a pleasing way, and on this album, Jaime XX strikes this balance across all 11 tracks. In Colour is off-kilter enough to give it an achingly cool credibility, but maintains enough typical elements of dance music to give it potential for widespread appeal.
This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on June 29th 2015.