There’s a word in German – Sehnsucht – that could be said to mean thoughts about areas of life that are imperfect, alongside a yearning for an imagined or dreamed alternative. Sampling doesn’t generally provide such a deep philosophical path towards introspection. Neither does going to a club, usually. But there might be those moments, where you look around in the crowd, and realize you’re looking for someone or something that may or may not be there, or even exist. A certain wistful awareness might seep in with the echoing silence that rings in your ears as the night ends and the streets are empty as you head homewards, feet aching, watching the sun rising.
In Colour manages to trap those uncertain moments, tracing lines musically to samples that stretch back into the mediatized past. It’s an echo chamber where a snippet of sound or a rocksteady infused chorus can be enough to set in motion an entire chain of real or false memories of a life that may or may not exist. You don’t have to like the xx to appreciate the album, although Romy Madley Croft’s vocals on “Loud Places” may be enough to start you thinking about what the next xx album is going to be like. Yet there’s a sense that this release is Jamie’s statement of independence, a confession that his heart is with the soul and dance beats that infuse this record with an unexpectedly expressive beauty. When she sings “I go to loud places/to search for someone/to be quiet with/who will take me home” while the ex is looking for someone who will take them higher than she did, it’s beyond irony – instead it’s an acknowledgment of the lack of connection in the midst of the crowd, the loneliness in the middle of the party, in the middle of the city. The plaintive repeated guitar feels sharp like a pain you can’t erase, even as the chorus gets us up and on our feet again, carrying on through it all, the ‘dancing with tears in my eyes’ of an even earlier decade.
Every song alludes to a different style, like the steel drum sound in “Obvs”, and Jamie xx has the ability and the knowledge to make it all hang together. “I Know There’s Going to Be (Good Times) featuring Young Thug and Popcaan”, with the temporarily problematic sampling of “Good Times” by The Persuasions, goes back even further, mixing old school and new edge, wistfully hoping for a new night to remember.
“Hold Tight” echoes metallically, repetitive synth and distant vocals building a late night world that makes the sampled vocal, when it arrives, sound like a radio that’s finally been tuned into a station from the past.
But in spite of the slight tinge of melancholy that drifts through the album like a faded perfume, there isn’t a single song that couldn’t echo out on a dance floor. “Girl” feels a bit like lover’s rock for an electronic age, another sample that reaches out to us from the past, fuzzy at first, clearing up finally like you’ve wiped the dust from an old picture. But Jamie is careful building up his tonal mix of sounds– there’s nothing here that jars, that doesn’t fit together carefully. Every separate sound moves the song where he wants it to go, whether it’s opening up to a brighter chorus, or driving a percussive beat like on “Gosh”.
In Colour is an album you could spend hours unpicking, discussing samples and references. Or you could slip on your headphones, and turn down the harsh call of the outside world. Along the way, don’t forget to give Jamie xx credit. He’s put together a monster of an album, a love letter to music and pirate radio and times that were good, whether you were there or not. If sampling is aural recycling, insuring nothing is lost or forgotten, his layered mix has also created something that didn’t exist before. Float away to the memories of what could have been. Whose memory is it anyway?