You’re in Ecstasy Without Me: How Jamie xx and his debut album ‘In Colour’ managed to polarise the entire music industry

By on Friday, 5th June 2015 at 11:00 am

The 1st of June 2015 will forever be marked by the highly-anticipated release of the debut solo album by Jamie Smith, known better by his now longtime alter-ego Jamie xx. Smith owes much to his integral position in the Mercury Prize-winning trio, as his membership to it has been nothing but positive, without a doubt opened doors to him in the worlds of production and DJaying. His remix prowess began in earnest when he worked on Florence and the Machine‘s cover of Candi Staton’s ‘You’ve Got the Love’ in 2009, progressing through remixes of his own band, Adele, Radiohead and Four Tet. I can’t even begin to quantify the number of festivals and line-up posters I’ve seen his name listed on, including the Californian desert dance party known as Coachella 2015. Not bad at all, son. Not bad at all.

The electronic-driven contents of ‘In Colour’, now available from Young Turks on both sides of the Atlantic, has been a labour of love and culmination of his professional life over the last 7 years. Clearly, it’s an important record for the 26-year old and one I’m glad he was able to release now, because it’s part of his continuing musical story. And yet, depending on who you talk to or indeed, to which circles you belong, its legacy as Smith’s first solo effort has already been called into question, and for an album that has been alive for less than a week.

The heart of ‘In Colour’, at least how I understand it, is Smith’s “almost obsessive chronicling of in early UK dance music”, its many genres translated into in his own versions to honour what has come before but still make something new and fresh of his very own. Personally, I think it’s pretty neat that someone still relatively young himself yet already very influential to many young music listeners is open and willing to admit how important music of the past has been to him as an developing artist.

Some have asked whether or not this LP is ground-breaking, some going so far as questioning if this collection deserves all the sales and accolades it will get. Others have hit out at Smith, saying that in a similar vein to the extremely popular xx, whose music has backed adverts such as those for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 90210, the album is simply uninspired landfill indie (or, I guess, landfill dance) for the masses and by default, has no artistic merit.

I suppose with the internet at everyone’s fingertips these days, one could argue that we all have the means to research each and every one of Jamie xx’s touchstones on ‘In Colour’, whether it be house, grime, dancehall or whatnot. In terms of what is ground-breaking or not, that’s really up to the listener, isn’t it? If social media during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London taught us anything, it’s that every single music listener on this planet doesn’t have the same background, so one young girl’s perception of ‘Wish You Were Here’ as a new Ed Sheeran song, while incorrect, can be forgiven. Somewhat. In terms of sales and accolades, this is entirely moot, a foregone conclusion, what with Pitchfork alone giving it a near perfect 9.3 (only dwarfed by a few records such as Kanye West’s perfect rating for ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ in 2010 – not touching that).

‘In Colour’ as a whole was the album up for discussion on last night’s edition of Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on 6 Music. The three-man panel had starkly different impressions of ‘SeeSaw’ from the album, which like earlier taster ‘Loud Places’ features the smoky vocals of Jamie’s xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft. Louder Than War journalist John Robb commented of the track ‘SeeSaw’, “it’s just a bit too polished for me, really, it reminds me of flats built in city centres now, you think ‘who lives in those kinds of places?’ It sounds like what they’d listen to in them flats. The one thing I did like was the melancholy, the darkness to it.” Actor Robert Lonsdale’s assessment was middling, initially applauding Smith for “being brave for using lots of instruments and stuff like that, but then putting them through the synthesiser or the same effect or something, it all sounded…a lot of the album sounded quite similar.”

Lamacq’s fellow BBC presenter Tom Robinson provided the most even commentary, having admitted he’d already read reviews of it prior to coming into the studio and sensed the album’s polarising quality to the music community. He noted that in one review, Jamie Smith had been equated to the Sam Smith of dance music. Lammo winced at this suggestion, but Robinson dismissed it, saying, “Sam Smith is extremely good at what he does. It’s exactly right for his target audience, and it’s beautifully done. Perfectly executed, and it sells by the bucketload. This is going to sell by the bucketload.” This led to Lammo asking Robinson if he thought Sam Smith was groundbreaking; Robinson said no, but was quick to point out that Jamie xx has an already established history of breaking boundaries in the past.

Even if Jamie xx wasn’t perceived as a groundbreaking artist in the past, I ask, why should that matter on how ‘In Colour’ does in the shops, or how people view it in 25, 50 years’ time? Leave any preconceived notions or gossip you’ve heard about an artist at the door: the most important thing should be how an album sounds to your virgin ears.

Electronic dance music has long had the bad reputation with non-dance music fans that it’s impossible to feel, understand or “get”, as if you must be part of some misfit, card-carrying group to truly appreciate it for all its analogue vs. digital intricacies. This debut album from Jamie xx has, for better or worse, been put in a good position to do and be a lot of things that other releases in the dance genre could never hope to accomplish. Like all music that is reviewed day after day, it is one thing to have an opinion. We should all have our own opinions and draw our own conclusions on what we like playing in our ears and what we do not. What I find counterproductive are the attacks on this album on the basis that this isn’t good art, it is somehow unworthy of popularity or indeed, it’s unworthy of praise because of this popularity. If the true concern is about what this album’s legacy will be, why don’t we wait that 50 years out and see?

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