Anyone who heard Jamie xx’s “All Under One Roof Raving” last year knows that The xx percussionist has a reverent curiosity in before-his-time ’90s rave culture. Anyone who checked out his 2011 remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here (titled We’re New Here) also got a sense of his strong interest in fusing R&B styles with modern electronica. Both of those pursuits come together for his absorbing solo debut, In Colour, an album carefully informed by the early mainstream spread of EDM but held within the confines of a minimalist construction.
In Colour takes little time before launching into its comprehensive, no-stone-left-un-turned investigation of 20-year-old club scenes: Opener “Gosh” doesn’t just pull from bygone DJ-mix BBC radio program One In The Jungle, it unearths an un-aired episode for a sample. After that, sounds of underground dance gatherings rise and fade as the album wanders through the coolly hypnotic and spacey trance-pop cut “Seesaw” (sung by xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft) to the pulsating, made-for-strobe-lights “Hold Tight,” soaking up the din of the crowd and commentary from unknown rave patrons along the way. Even mellow songs that wouldn’t quite fuel the party nonetheless stay on subject, for example, the quiet, shadowy “Stranger In A Room,” which features Oliver Sim (the other xx member) brooding “Wanna disappear in a crowd / Just a stranger in a room.”
That In Colour contains such low-key tracks at all demonstrates that Jamie xx isn’t interested in mere replication. This is restrained, level-headed exploration of his inspirations, striking in its simplicity yet remarkably engaging. Much like his band, he creates intensity by scaling back the elements.
Rather than seeming detached and distant, the often stark nature of his songs feels immediate and personal, which actually contributes to the communal vibe. Throw in some of the aforementioned electronic tinkering with throwback R&B, soul, and doo-wop—most notably on the urgent, reggae-tinged dance-hall banger “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” which samples a 1972 single by The Persuasions and gives the mic to Young Thug and Popcaan—and In Colour delivers an impressively eclectic set. True, a few tracks will bore the casual listener by hewing too closely to standard house music. For the most part, however, Jamie xx’s probing of the past produces some intriguingly useful parts for an intimate style of electronica that is all his own.