The first thing that pops into frame is a loop.
It’s Lyn Collins’ iconic “Think” break, but it’s been compressed into something crunchy and brusque, something almost militant. It’s alone, save for this subtle low-end bass, only landing at the first beat. It’s followed by more loops, each of them tighter and tighter than the last. Distorted hand-claps roar in the background. A pitch-fucked voice is cut up, chopped into exclamations like “oh my gosh” or “easy, easy!” The song continues like this for over a minute, but then something remarkable happens.
Suddenly the bass, the one that landed at the beginning of each bar, fills the room. Slowly, a high-pitched whine makes itself clearer and clearer, finally dropping into frame in a moment of blissful release. It morphs into this beautifully airy synth solo, lifting up those machine-like loops higher and higher into the atmosphere. It bleeds this undeniable warmth, making its way into each and every cold, metallic crevice.
The song is “Gosh,” the opener of Jamie xx’s 2015 solo debut, In Colour, which might be the purest dance record to come out of the U.K. this side of Burial’s Untrue. It’s expansive and welcoming, sure, but it’s also gentle, intimate and rapturously emotional; a bleary-eyed masterpiece that shoots for the stars.
Unlike his work with the xx, which often favored monochrome hues and somber atmospheres, In Colour is as sonically vibrant as its title and album art. Jamie xx, real name Jamie Smith, fills the sonic template with soft, pulsing synths, bright percussion, clean guitar tones and a glorious multitude of samples, running the gamut from obscure pirate radio broadcasts to ’70s pop, refracting these sounds into something both nostalgic and revelatory.
In his teenage days, Smith would often patronize the legendary Plastic People nightclub alone, soaking up rave culture from a distance like a fly on the wall. In Colour stands as a reflection of this; the music moves, but it eschews the day-glo, drug-fueled preconceptions of rave music for something that’s far more insular. It shows reverence to the vanguards of dance music past, but it’s never bogged down by tradition. It’s an album that culminates 6 years of Smith’s meticulous, artful approach to music, but it never sacrifices the essentials, pulsing and breathing with a vitality matched by few other records.
Take, for example, the very next song. “Sleep Sound” starts with some trickling, woody synths anchored by low-end heavy percussion before bottoming out into a pulsing sample of “It’s A Blue World” by the Four Freshmen, a chop as heady as it is beautiful. Gradually, the picture warps out of frame, floating in limbo before a series of brisk snare snaps bring it back, pulling in tow a fantastic chop of Alicia Keys’ voice. It’s filled with far too many twists and turns to feel natural in a nightclub, but I can’t listen to the song without feeling compelled to bob my head along to the rhythm.
The same could be said for a lot of the songs here. The next song, “Seesaw,” might be a heartbroken ballad from xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, but it’s set to these gorgeously glowing synths and helmed by a fantastic breakbeat. The guitars on “Girl” always arrive a beat too late and the song throws Freeez’s “I.O.U.” into molasses, but the drunken stilt of it all is just irresistible. The steel drum melody on “Obvs” seems so simple until it turns into this percussion-filled odyssey that takes woodblocks, drum pads and Hugh Masekela for a joyride. Even with all the fake-outs that fill “The Rest Is Noise,” each rise and fall feels positively euphoric, tinted with a bittersweet joy that turns it into one of the most affecting songs on the record.
There’s nothing bittersweet about the song before it, though. “(I Know There’s Gonna Be) Good Times” is as gleeful as the title suggests. It’s the one song on the record that throws out any sense of calculated restraint and ends up all the better for it, because quite simply, the song fucking owns.
With only a Persuasions sample, springy bell chimes, and some delectable finger-snaps for guidance, Young Thug runs his guest verse absolutely ragged, exploding with quotable after quotable (I personally adore “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller”) as he bounds through the beat. Popcaan’s presence, while more low-key, offers a link to the ragga and dub influences in jungle music, and his patois snakes through the beat remarkably well.
In the grand scheme of In Colour, “Good Times” may be an outlier, but it’s placed at a very important moment in the record. It arrives right after the emotional core of the album, working together almost like yin-and-yang, intertwining two very different songs spiritually.
That song, of course, is “Loud Places,” a song so dazzlingly, immediately powerful that it’s hard to put into words. It’s one of the simpler songs here, throwing Romy Madley-Croft’s affecting croon front and center, but it’s one of the rawest too, evoking a quiet storm that brings to mind the duo’s work with the xx.
“I go to loud places/to search for someone/to be quiet with,” sings Croft, tapping into an emptiness that can only be filled with deafening noise. Her voice exists in a vacuum, only supported by a heart-rendering three-chord piano line and a soft kick drum, seemingly echoing down an empty hallway. It’s a remarkable display of Smith’s acute sense of sonic space, and it wordlessly reflects the loneliness in Croft’s voice.
But suddenly, the keys strike with more force. Croft’s vocals abandon their breathless hush, and something amazing happens. In maybe the most delightful moment on a record filled with them, the heavenly voice of Idris Muhammad, a sample from “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” falls from the ceiling, percolating into all the empty space.
It’s a truly blissful release that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Like all the best of In Colour, in finding itself enraptured in moments of warm sincerity, it defies the emptiness of being alone.