Club music should not be in your face all the time. As I age, I am realizing how much the rave and EDM scene is targeted at the roaring youth, tripping and rolling into mad light shows and highlighter paint mobs. I like raves as much as the next bro, but in order to truly appreciate dance music one must understand that dubstep is as much the product of Donna Summer as Taylor Swift is the product of Arlo Guthrie. All music draws from tradition and history in some way, and The xx band member Jamie XX is set out to prove just that in his debut solo release, In Colour.
If you have been craving a sound and have not been able to find it since Daft Punk’s magnum opus Random Access Memories, look no further than In Colour. As far as paying homage to the origins of modern dance music goes, Europeans just get it. Yes, French house music is heavily influenced by Chicago’s dance movement, but many argue that the principle pioneer of American disco and dance is the famous Italian musician, Giorgio Moroder. Of this I agree, but regardless of what nationality you are loyal to, music is a universal language, something that affects everyone equally.
Which is one of the album’s bright focal points. Jamie XX’s British roots are the highlight, but two of the songs are dedicated to the Caribbean and its flourishing aura of positivity. “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” features Jamaican artist Popcaan and “Obvs” showcases the power of steel drums, which is a Trinidad & Tobago instrument. Jamie XX does not suffer from regional nearsightedness.
Comfort zones are still hard to escape, however, and there are two songs that feature The xx singer Romy. That’s not to say that it was a disappointment to hear her on this album, but the other songs prove how much potential Jamie XX has as a solo artist. “Loud Places” ends with Romy singing the lyrics “you’re in ecstasy without me / When you come down / I won’t be around,” and is a letdown given the album’s overall theme of triumph. It would have better suited the cohesiveness of the release if it did not feel obligated to include an excuse why The xx might break up after In Colour is released to critical acclaim.
Ultimately that is the album’s only weak point, and it is not a damning one. To blame someone for cautionary change would be a contradictory exercise and would rob Jamie XX of his humanity. In Colour is an appropriate debut, one that does not take too much risk but packs enough in to declare an ambitious future. A future that hopefully pushes dance music towards more advanced fare, one with piano arpeggios and beats established without the use of bass. Opener “Gosh” is the perfect example of this because it is infectious, has an immaculate trajectory, and has the magical gift to initiate body movement–all without the overuse of bass.
It is impossible to decide whether to blast that on full volume or to listen to it with eyes closed at a moderate volume. That exact beauteous balance on the trapeze high wire of dance music is not something easily achieved, and all 43 minutes of In Colour manages to instill that enlightened sense of a calm adrenaline rush.
Multifaceted acknowledgement of musical and cultural origins is one of the reasons why genres are able to sustain similarities while simultaneously achieving a state of fluid progressiveness. This is not dance music moving backwards, but rather its ascent towards greater heights. Jamie XX subtly yet exultantly proves that clubbing should gravitate towards finesse and move away from the abrasive migraine-inducing thumping that has become the norm.