Five years of Jamie xx’s ‘In Colour’: One of the last decade’s most influential records
The year of 2015 honestly feels like a separate timeline. It was the calm before the storm that was the dumpster fire of 2016, a year largely regarded as the beginning of the end. It was a remarkable year for albums as well, with many artists releasing career-defining records in that very special twelve months. It’s only fitting then, now that we find ourselves with our lives on hold, that we’d get a little nostalgic for simpler times. It is also fitting that, five years on from his own career-defining record titled In Colour, Jamie Smith (professionally known as Jamie xx) would return with his first release since in ‘Idontknow’. And while we still have ‘Idontknow’ on heavy repeat weeks after its release, In Colour also remains on rotation five years on as well. It was a game-changer at the time and still holds up today without being dated. Instead, it’s still a timeless, multi-faceted record that stands up to its reputation as one of 2015’s, and the decade’s best albums.
The culmination of the six years of his life preceding it, In Colour was Jamie xx‘s entrance into the spotlight on his own terms: careful considered, and utterly dazzling. It was his first album, though we had heard glimpses of his solo material in now-iconic tracks like ‘All Under One Roof Raving’ and ‘Far Nearer’, THAT Adele remix among many others, his remixes of Gil Scott-Heron, and of course ‘Girl’ and ‘Sleep Sound’ which would end up on the album itself. Although it was divisive at the time with critics either loving it or hating it, In Colour still maintains a loyal, cult-like fanbase. It’s intelligent dance music, but it is never cold or too smart for you. Instead, Jamie‘s ability to inject palpable feeling in everything he does makes for a warm, emotional journey — like you’re in it together. It’s one part paying tribute and homage to rave scenes that ceased to exist before Smith was even born, while also putting a human face to the many complexities growing up can bring.
In their 2015 review, Pitchfork described In Colour by saying “It’s ‘cool’ music designed to make you feel, and the mechanism is vulnerability.” The dancefloor can mean many things to many people: emancipation, liberation, freedom. It can also be the scene for heartbreak, anxiety, and of everything feeling all too much. Its this duality that In Colour explores in all its messy glory: you can be at the best party in the world and still feel completely alone, or you can have the time of your life — and some nights even do both. For a renowned introvert, Smith tackles this with bravado, leaning on his friends to voice these complexities with at times devastating eloquence, while tapping cross-genre juggernauts to kick into the good times.
From the slowly-building behemoth of album-opener ‘Gosh’, into the twinkling serenity of ‘Sleep Sound’, Jamie explores his penchant for choppy rhythms while elaborating on his love of creatively using peculiar vocal samples to create richly atmospheric tracks that are underpinned by a house sensibility. Infusing elements of UK garage in his rhythms and a healthy dose of bass, ‘Gosh’ and ‘Sleep Sound’ start the show so nicely before the hushed, almost buried vocals of fellow The xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft begin to swirl in ‘SeeSaw’. His go-to steel drums appear on ‘Obvs’, injecting a slightly melancholic optimism into the longing we just overheard from Romy, before the palette cleanser of the spatial, intergalactic not-even-two-minutes rush of ‘Just Saying’ gives us a sign of things to come.
‘Stranger In A Room’ sees Oliver Sim sing of changing yourself “just for the night, with no word of it following you home,” over arpeggiated keys. In the broader context of where this record lives in the greater timeline, In Colour came three years after The xx‘s divisive second record, Coexist. In the years after that record, each member took time away to find themselves. Sim has since openly detailed his struggles with addiction and mental illness, so in hindsight this particular song is even more devastating with this lens attached. It is so different from the rest of the album, with Smith‘s production allowing Sim to pour his heart out with all the space he needs and in doing so he allows his friend a chance to come home.
The album kicks back into full throttle mode from here, with the explosive breakbeats of ‘Hold Tight’, the hands-up-eyes-closed emotion of showstopper ‘Loud Places’ (once again featuring Romy), and ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ featuring the confusing-on-paper collaboration with Young Thug and Popcaan which makes so much sense when you hear it. Choosing to end the album on his own, ‘The Rest Is Noise’ and ‘Girl’, two tracks that started it all for Jamie as a solo artist, wrap things up in blissfully overwhelming style.
It would be two more years before The xx would release their next record, I See You, marking a full five years between albums. With that record, they too emerged into the light for the first time but also on their own terms as well. While it can’t all be attributed to Jamie xx‘s solo work as we discuss in our 2017 interview with Sim, its influence not only on that band but electronic music cannot be understated still to this day. Here was this cripplingly shy kid, making dark music with his best friends shrouded in shadow, now stepping into the light on his own in full colour. It was a complete 180 from the maximalist dance music that consumed the world at the time, offering up a different kind of party record — one that acknowledges the humanity of the rave.
In Colour is a triumph, and looking back on it, it is clear why it was one of the decade’s defining records. It’s timeless, and one that means so much to so many people. With a world that looks completely different now than it did in 2015, it is a true mark of his artistry that we can continually revisit this album and it still hit the same way it did half a decade ago. Capitalising on the rare flashes of brilliance we’d heard from him before this record, yet still being innovative enough to be impactful years later, In Colour somehow only gets better. And while it would be impossible to speculate what Jamie xx might still have planned for this year given how electrifying ‘Idontknow’ is, what we do know is it will be just as innovative, creative and forward-thinking as ever.
Words by Emma Jones