When should you judge a book by its cover? Well if the cover is as colourful as the one adorning the first solo album proper from Jamie xx, it is strongly advised.
It is here that he celebrates life in all its Technicolor glory, beckoning summer to make itself known in an album of throwbacks, premonitions, and barely restrained good times. This is a cosmopolitan piece of work, a kind of Notting Hill Carnival record, where steel pans, UK garage, soul and funk freely mix, rubbing shoulders on the same dancefloor.
Despite the collision of influences Jamie xx has an instantly recognisable sound, which is not easily said about dance or electronic music. With the use of tuned percussion – steel pans especially – he strips the music back to its bare essentials, bringing in the UK garage of his childhood in clipped, jumpy beats while also allowing for a few well chosen samples. The icing on the cake is found in the surrounding production, with MC chat, conversation and partying refracted around the stereo picture, giving the headphones listener a comforting woozy feeling as they take in the big anthems.
The carnival moves in an out of focus to great effect at the end of Sleep Sound, capturing that end of night feeling, and also in the closing Girl. The steel pans and shuffling beat are heard in Obvs, while the out and out anthems are Gosh – once the talky bit is done and the monotone siren moves into action – the cracking Hold Tight and Loud Places, where a sample of Idris Muhammad’s Could Heaven Ever Be Like This to go matches The xx band mate Romy Madley-Croft’s vocal like bourbon and coke.
The vocal guests here are well chosen. Romy also appears on the blissful Seesaw, final The xx member Oliver Sim is the Stranger In A Room, while Young Thug and Popcaan join for the optimistic I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times).
Through the album runs the gentle melancholy The xx have achieved so effortlessly, coming to the surface on thoughtful songs like Sim’s contribution. Yet it is in its moments of celebration that In Colour breaks free from its moorings, celebrating the diversity of its London origins.
The London-centric approach could potentially alienate those of a more northern persuasion in the UK, but don’t let that put you off – because In Colour is a wonderful and often life-affirming piece of work, confirming its producer as one of the hottest talents in the UK right now. It doesn’t always maintain the consistency that makes a truly great album, but it makes you feel good and puts a smile on your face. Just as the cover promised.