, June 1st, 2015 19:45
Jamie xx's debut solo album is influenced by his formative experiences in London's clubs, or at least that's what he wants you to think. Over a succession of interviews, The xx's primary beatmaker has spent his time discussing the touring that took him away from his home city and ultimately formed the catalyst for many of the tracks that make up In Colour. "I felt like I was missing out, like London was disappearing while I was away," he told The Fader's Ruth Saxelby, while, speaking to Philip Sherburne over at Pitchfork, he said: "Listening to music that reminded me of home was a good way to feel happy about feeling sad." That music, that he primarily heard at well-storied club nights such as FWD and Floating Points' You're A Melody, makes up the chief reference point for In Colour's overall oeuvre, as various vocal samples weave in and out from track to track. They’re tacked on, so as to seemingly provide sonic confirmation of Jamie Smith's intentions.
Where the music played at the aforementioned nights and the scenes that splintered off from them, as Smith describes, formed some of the most exhilarating, pivotal moments of London's nightlife last decade, In Colour fails to capture any of the potential thrill that comes with a night out in the city he so missed while absent from it. It doesn't even encapsulate the pre-night buzz and anticipation or the post-club regret and comedown. What is offered instead is a collection of sexless, sonically conservative tracks overwrought in bass and nostalgia, and largely void of personality – club music for the neoliberal age. These experiences, at nights such as FWD>> and clubs like Plastic People, seem to form mere marketing fodder in order to make In Colour appear more interesting than it is.
Following on from last year's Mark Leckey sampling 'All Under One Roof Raving', album opener 'Gosh' once again slathers on the rave signifiers with sledgehammer subtlety (see also: 'Hold Tight'), with its breakbeat-indebted drum pattern and repeated vocal sample of "Oh my gosh" lifted from 90s BBC Radio 1 pilot One In The Jungle. By track two, 'Sleep Sound', the jokes start to write themselves, and that's the trouble with In Colour, just how overwhelmingly inoffensive it is, failing to deliver on both those prime club influences and Smith's background as part of The xx.
One of Smith's greatest abilities, as part of The xx, has continually been his eye for restraint and minimalism, a nous that cooly allows bandmates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim to play off against each other and bring that key dynamic between the two's back and forth vocals to the fore. Showing up on 'Seesaw', however, Madley-Croft's characteristically introspective vocal is drowned out by a clattering, by-the-numbers drum pattern and a melody cynically crafted to punctuate hands-in-the-air moments as Smith makes his solo step-up to this summer's festival stages. Appearing on 'Stranger In A Room', Sim fares slightly better, his low-register lilt given breathing room by hushed guitars typical of The xx as a whole unit, though it may leave you questioning what makes it more befitting of Smith's debut album than as an offcut, at best, on a The xx album.
Four tracks in and Smith introduces his trusty steel pans for the first time – certainly naming the track 'Obvs' suggests he is far more open to expressing his sense of humour than let on by the introverted reputation he has earned from interviewers. Again, it's innocuous, retreading already well-travelled territory. The steel pans rear their head again on the Young Thug and Popcaan-assisted 'I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)'. Thugger's captivating idosyncrasies significantly carry proceedings, though to Smith's credit, the link-up is a relatively inspired affair among the murk and safety of much of its surroundings. Coming ahead of it, 'Loud Places', Madley-Croft's second guest contribution, opens with a field recording from Plastic People. Where her vocal is drowned out on 'Seesaw', 'Loud Places' comes closest to seizing on that aforementioned club atmosphere, but rather what takes place away from the club as well as in it ("I go to loud places, To search for someone […] Who will take me home"). Madley-Croft attempts to meet the expectations of her subject, resigning herself in the track's outro: "You're in ecstasy without me, When you come down, I won't be around." Like much of the rest of Smith's debut however, it is difficult to find the colour hinted at by the album's title and his own repeated proclamations in interviews that, referencing The xx, "I wanted to show that we're not moody."
What doesn't sit particularly right though, is that for an album so apparently rooted in the diversity and spaces of London's nightlife, Smith has been all too reluctant to take on serious discussions such as those involving politics, recently telling Lisa Blanning that "I never talk about political stuff in interviews." Sure, not everybody has to offer a stream of political consciousness through their work and their platform as a musician, but when taken in tandem with a nightlife scene that is facing the effects of widespread gentrification and governmental crackdowns, perhaps it is time to put your head above the parapet, particularly when the primary source for your debut album lies in that scene and its prosperity. Reflecting this, In Colour is ultimately too tidy and, Young Thug features aside, afraid to take risks, and is therefore all the more beige for it. If Foxtons did club music...