There was a strange moment, in the heat of the last British elections, when Labour leader Ed Miliband, frantically seeking to shed his awkward dad image, sought the support of comedian Russell Brand. It was a classic example of ‘the powers that be’ trying to court the underground, stooping to the youthful band of the educated and disenfranchised, whose level of interest in politics often languishes behind their will to mock it. Universal though this motif certainly is however, this particular strain of British counterculture has something shared by very few others around the world: a dance floor all to itself.
Club culture in Britain was, from its inception, always grounded in a deep sense of equality and anonymity. Once you entered that hallowed space, all ego was eliminated, replaced by only a deep, pounding throb. It didn’t attract the anti-establishment so much as the non-establishment. The experience was, above all, what mattered. It’s a sentiment that has been lost in the so called “flat white revolution” of London, only to be perfectly recaptured by Jamie xx in his transcendent debut album, In Colour.
This isn’t to say that Jamie Smith isn’t still the heartthrob of this very same group of British hipsters; this is the man after all that gave us the xx, a group whose minimalism ultimately trumped any sense of honest emotion. Whereas that group’s lyricism bordered on the mythical, Smith’s driving bass lines and compressed sampling grounds everything in gritty reality, letting his panoramic synths do the heavy lifting.
Smith’s two xx bandmates, Romy and Oliver Sim, both feature on the album, however they do so in distinctly unfamiliar settings. On ‘Loud Places’ Romy’s anaemic whispers are transformed by a sea of backing voices and guitar riffs, blossoming into an uplifting ode to the power of dance “I go to loud places…to be quiet.” The more familiar soft-core rave vibe of ‘Stranger in a Room’ feels propulsive in a way that the track’s contributor, Sim, has rarely managed before. There’s even room here for ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be’ featuring an oddball collaboration of rapper Young Thug and vocalist Popcaan.
Nevertheless, it is the emotive power of Smith’s production on it’s own that is the real stand out here. His ability to skillfully meld the almost ethereal pop landscapes that appear on tracks like ‘Obvs’ with the dissonant vocal snippets that propel the albums more danceable moments, makes this an album that with far reaching appeal. That’s not to say it’s going to appear on the dance floor anytime soon; Smith’s tracks pulse rather than build, the breakdowns feeling natural rather than overly premeditated. But wherever they appear, these tracks will draw you into a different, introverted world, one where the incessant chatter of politics and culture are entirely forgotten.