The fall of The British Empire was the best thing for British art. Dickens, Shelly, Wilde and many others chronicled the decay. The Beatles and Stones (taking their cues from Muddy Waters, Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others) transformed the former colonies’ Blues and R’n’B into the Rock’n’Roll that took over the world. In the last three decades British visual artists, led by Damien Hirst and Banksy, produce some of the most culturally critical, provocative, and innovative works the art world has ever seen. British actors own the stage, TV, and cinema. This month, Jamie XX further cements his place amongst the greats as he brings together the isle’s history of innovative dance music, while molding a form that is completely recognizable as his own, with his debut solo album: “In Colour”.
The album is an ode to minimalism, but expansive in its scope. Last week Jamie XX released a visual animation stream of the album for free via iTunes. The stream offers a procession of simple shapes and colors synched to the sounds of the album, doing more with the rectangle than anyone since Rothko. The shapes are usually one color, presented in collections. The movement of the shapes, and the transitions of the colors can be subtle or sudden, but are always tailored to the music.
Over the last year, anticipation for “In Colour” steadily built as Jamie XX released one stellar single after the next. In a recent interview with The Fader he talked about this album as a vehicle to release the music he had been working on recently. Without that admission, no one would be able to guess this wasn’t an full album concept from the get go. This is an album of distinct songs tied together by a master weaver of sonic threads.
The album features a bevy of guests: Young Thug, Popcaan, the other members of The XX (Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft), but still maintains a unified aesthetic under Jamie’s guidance. Jamie may not be a DJs DJ (yet) but he certainly is a Producer’s Producer.
The standout track “Loud Places” offers majestically sullen verses breathed by Romy, ironically contemplating the loud dance floor as a place where people go to find someone to share silence with. Noise and silence, joy and pain, spaces and confines, these are the themes examined throughout this work. Universal themes that shine through with greater clarity on every listen, and end up sounding more like Welsh’s dilated dreams than a Trainspotting sequel ever could.
“In Colour” is breathtaking in scope, expertly visualized, and mixed. Somehow futuristic, reverent, referential, and forward thinking all at once. On first listen it comes off overly earnest in parts, an occasional parody of club culture eating itself. On further examination tracks like “Gosh” and “Girl” take known sounds, and evolve them into something unexpected.
“Good Times” featuring Young Thug and Popcaan is certainly the attempt at making a summer jam, but it still doesn’t feel that forced, only slightly out of place, amidst its more expansive, and electronica influenced neighbors. Perhaps Jamie is throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Cashmere Cat, Pretty Lights, and the other electro-funk-hop producers du jour (in polite, understated British fashion), if only to prove that he can make bangers too.
Listening to “In Colour” after all these months of looking at those colored squares on the Young Turks’ record releases the kaleidoscopic concept comes into focus. That rectangle is a rectangle, the color is the color. But, perhaps the rectangle signifies something more: a bright monolith, calling on the circling apes to throw their bones in the air. Watching the visual stream while listening to the sounds of now one recurring thought is, “Wow, that was so simple, yet so beautiful and dramatic” — the same could be said of this young man’s music.