All minimalism centers around movement. Look at architecture, art, and literature: Their minimalist incarnations strive to open up space where the viewer or reader can be free. In the context of dance music, room to move is arguably the most important thing you can have. Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, capitalizes on that principle with In Colour, a debut of gorgeous, sweeping tracks. Through 11 songs and one aesthetically pleasing cover, the xx producer hones in on minimalist values by flushing out any and all unnecessary elements.
Like its accompanying music video, lead single “Girl” is a clean, thick, pastel rectangle rippling with samples. Had Smith stuffed it with more, it could have sunk under its own weight, but he follows in the footsteps of Four Tet or The Field by slowly introducing new sounds and then repeating them until they melt into the foreground. That effervescent ease reappears in “Gosh”, whose music video spans breathtaking views of outer space while wood blocks and masculine vocal samples shuffle against each other. Here, Jamie xx rewires old school house and dub to feel particularly modern.
Steel pan melodies, Smith’s growing trademark, take root in “Obvs”, one of many instances where he battles anxiety with the deep hum of a heartbeat bass. On “Sleep Sound”, he pursues quieter beats, mimicking the sensation of water stuck in the ear to an aerobic pulse. The album’s most striking cleanliness comes in the subtleties of “The Rest Is Noise”. Ominous piano plods over a racing heartbeat, then cracks into a dozen notes that scamper about until they’re swallowed by a warped ambulance siren. In five minutes, Smith traces the nervous acceptance of inner emergencies bleeding out to painful memories — or, in simpler terms, a night out at the club alone.
Throughout it all, Jamie xx seeks to mirror the UK club scene and its effect on its dancers. The bass comes in swatches like Orbital, the muted production like whitewashed walls, the melodies like the day’s leftover whistles. Most prominently, the fractured, slow exclamations of anonymous voices are entirely relateable, even if you can’t recall ever hitting up a proper rave. “I just … The world just…” one stutters in “Seesaw”, trying to articulate the emotion that follows the physical release of stress on the dance floor. There’s no need for him to finish his sentence. The music fills in the blanks.
Staying in control doesn’t mean playing it safe; In Colour sees its fair share of adventures. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” brings Young Thug onboard alongside Popcaan, a dancehall king in his own right. Here, Thug does the nostalgia digging instead of Smith. His lyrics bubble with ’90s-style optimism, verbally mirroring the bright tone of Smith’s steel drums.
Even Smith’s bandmates from The xx, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, tone down their guest vocals here more than usual. On “Loud Places”, Croft seeks to mellow out drunken handclaps while distant chatter leaks through a door left open from the next room over. Sim, on the other hand, loses his emotions in “Stranger In A Room”, fading to gray even though the words “want to change your colors/ Just for the night?” scream magenta and lime.
Jamie xx has stayed beneath our noses for so long while remixing Radiohead and claiming production credits on Drake’s Take Care. The mastermind has been scheming ever since he was gifted his first turntables at age 10; but now, at 26 years old, he’s mixing a sound all his own. Each song grows richer the more you explore its open space. Its minimalism breathes buckets of color. After one listen or 10, In Colour reflects brightly, a phenomenally poised and universally approachable solo debut.
Essential tracks: “Girl”, “The Rest Is Noise”, and “Gosh”