Dance music is joyful. That’s kind of obvious. What’s less apparent is the melancholy that lurks below the surface. On the lead single from In Colour, Jamie xx reminds us of this: “I go to loud places, to search for someone, to be quiet with, who will take me home.” As Hua Hsu points out in his New Yorker review: “It’s a gorgeous reminder of why some people go out in the first place: so they never have to go out again.” Dance music is ultimately an escape, and anyone who’s experienced the live-for-the-moment highs of clubs is well-aware of how fleeting and manufactured the ecstasy feels the next morning. Our selective memory keeps us going back, but there is an understanding these moments are unsustainable.
Those competing strains of vibrancy and melancholy are ever-present in Jamie xx’s debut. The album is aptly named – the soaring synths and signature steel drums blanket the album with life and
color colour. Gosh sounds like a buddhist meditation for ravers, and The Rest is Noise is simply euphoric. But these gorgeous soundscapes are matched by a self-aware quality that provides depth behind the joyful noise. It’s not dark so much as honest. Stranger in a Room acknowledges the familiar feeling of isolation in a large crowd, and Hold Tight sounds more like the hangover than the party. He doesn’t dwell in these moments but rather he weaves them into the narrative.
Jamie xx’s music is immediately accessible yet complex enough to demand repeat listens. That’s a rare combination that I believe only great acts are able to achieve. He does another thing the greats have a knack for: bridging past and present sounds, while forging the future. A reverence for old-school British rave culture dovetails with zeitgeisty moments like the surprisingly cohesive Young Thug feature on I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times). Then on songs like Loud Places and Gosh, Jamie carves out his own space, creating sounds that already feel like touchstones the next generation will be compelled to reference.
I like this album by the way.