Album review: Jamie xx – In Colour

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.

In Colour is now streaming as a visual album via iTunes. 

Courtney Barnett – Depreston

Nothing new, but I wanted to highlight what is easily one of my favorite songs of this adolescent year.

Aussie song-writer Courtney Barnett first turned heads in late 2013 with Avant Gardner, a tune that serves as a fitting introduction for the style she has subsequently developed over two albums. On it she sings: “It’s a Monday, it’s so mundane. What exciting things will happen today?” Highlighting excitement in an otherwise humdrum existence is the unique voice that Barnett owns. Listening to her music is sort of like watching a Coen Brothers movie, in that she brings to life the surreal qualities of the generally unremarkable.

Like Avant Gardner, Depreston is a striking, poignant song. Which is impressive considering the subject matter is buying real estate in the suburbs. She finds a way to squeeze every ounce of life out of her surroundings. After describing the neighborhood and house in scattered detail, Barnett launches in to a daydream, singing: “If you’ve got a spare half a million, you could knock it down and start rebuildin.'” She repeats this phrase six times over the course of a minute, before finishing out the track with a meandering guitar solo that lets you settle in to that daydream with her. NL

American Wrestlers

If the plural name doesn’t trick you, the multi-instrumental backing might. American Wrestlers is in fact the work of a single man, Gary McClure, who evidently wants you to think he’s not alone. Judging by the deliberately lo-fi sound that defines his debut solo album, McClure also wants you thinking he recorded these songs decades ago. A closer listen reveal that this smoke and mirrors act is meant to instill a certain charm, rather than deceive. This charm falters throughout the album, but on high points like “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either” it elevates McClure’s adept song-writing. NL

Jamie xx – Loud Places

Jamie Smith and Romy Madley-Croft have a history of making subdued, commanding songs as The XX. With Loud Places they reunite as individuals collaborating on a sound that reaches for new heights. The lead and backing vocals are nothing short of perfection and it sounds destined to be a festival epic. But Loud Places eclipses the hackneyed anthem fare with heartfelt sincerity both in terms of sound and substance. The ex-couple play off each other with their respective talents, the melancholy vocals competing against a triumphant electronic backdrop. The result is glorious.

Tobias Jesso Jr – BBC Radio 1 Session

As BBC host Zane Lowe notes, the music opinion/critic-sphere has spent the last several months showering Tobias Jesso Jr. with unabashed praise. And for good reason, as thus far Jesso has yet to disappoint. It’s great to see someone so talented get their break, but there is a downside – this outpouring of support could shroud an otherwise great album in hype. Sometimes, it’s best to let the music speak for itself: