In Multicolour: Tracing the Patchwork of Samples on Jamie xx's Debut LP
From Novelist to Alicia Keys, we unearth the secret whispers that make up In Colour.
One of the most potent and lasting elements of Jamie xx's debut LP In Colour is his use of samples. The cutting and repurposing of obscure soundbites is, of course, nothing new in electronic production, yet a recurring element on In Colour is the positioning of the sample as less of a hook, and more of an echo. A recent, and brilliant, New Yorker review of his album has compared the record's use of audio clipping to a "ghostly radio documentary" – an archive of shadows from the past. Rather than existing in the moment, it is an experiment in creating club music full of blurred memory and sensations.
As of today In Colour is available for a suitably visual stream via the iTunes store. A listen to the full record, and the inevitable re-listens it will inspire, should give a general overview of the feat Jamie xx has pulled off. While the production is clean and forward thinking, the whispers are ones that ground it in the legacy that have informed it. It is, in many ways, a far more honest and effective demonstration of 21st century dance music - a time where clubs are more inextricably tied to their past than ever before.
In an effort to map out some of these moments, and provide a condensed guide to just how far reaching his crate digging goes, we have pulled out some of the most impressive examples of the album's patchwork of pop-culture. Each one marking the breadth of influence that comprises the album.
Perhaps the hardest to locate of the album's splintered sounds is the "Oh my gosh", from In Colour's opener "Gosh". The voice of the MC, that rattles ominously over the swelling bass-led chords, is lifted from the long retired BBC Radio 1 show One in the Jungle. Running from 1995 until early 1998, the series of mixes was one of the first platforms given to jungle on mainstream radio. The programme invited DJs to select their mc before putting together a rolling mix, broadcast at 10pm on a Friday night. The most impressive thing about the singular choice of "oh my gosh", is that it is taken from an episode of the series that was never even broadcast.
The gruff tones of the MC are then played off against a beat that, although sounding like a rattling basement rhythm, is in fact a warped interpretation of a Lyn Collins' funk-feast "Think (About It)". Speaking of Jamie xx's quality as a producer, the beat in "Think" has been sampled many times before, appearing twice on Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But in spacing it out, "Gosh" successfully pulls it underground, submerging it in a dark fantasy of his own.
Jamie xx's work with Alicia Keys on her track "When It's All Over", along with his collaborative efforts with Drake, marked the scale of the producer's rise from the intimate quarters of The xx. This collaborative exchange has now come full circle with a soft bouncing sample from Keys' 2003 single "Karma". The use of the 'oh' is a nice nod to RNB, a genre that, while not as present as rave culture, is still a gently recurring thread throughout In Colour.
"Loud Places" was one of the first major tunes to be released from the album, and the combination of soft house with the producer's xx bandmate Romy Madley Croft made for a winning introduction to the record's aesthetic. The chorus utilises the soulful crescendo of American jazz drummer Idris Muhammad's 1977 hit "Could Heaven Ever Be Like This". The transcendental quality of lyrical content, and the shift of pace into something far more outwardly glowing, marks a key high point on the album, also made particularly poignant by Muhammad's death less than a year ago.
"I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times"
Certainly the most radio-friendly track on the album, "I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times" has already become many people's favourite cut from the record. Put simply, it's lit. It's straight fire. It's the sound of the summer 2k15. It's also a bold move in many ways, for an album that grounds itself in darker shades of introspection, to break out with what is a pretty straight-forward feel-good number. The focal point of the celebration comes in the shape of The Persuasions "Good Times", providing the central hook. It is probably the most formal use of a sample in the whole record, hardly altering the melody, instead allowing the glow of the original to shine through.
This sample is also responsible for one of the most thrilling copyright infringement lawsuits in recent memory, with an initial accusation from an original member of The Persuasions, Jimmy Hayes, who argued he was never contacted about the sample, before retracting the statement claiming he had been asked but had forgotten.
One sweet (if true) element at the end of "I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times", is a laugh that rings out during the track's dying seconds – a laugh that reportedly belongs to Novelist. This may or may not mean Jamie xx has a penchant for tickling grime MCs.
Fittingly the album's final track, "Girl", is in many ways In Colour's ultimate tableau. The track kicks in with a softly delivered snatch of dialogue, "you're the most beautiful girl in Hackney y'know". The line itself is taken from the third episode of a short lived channel 4 drama called Top Boy, a gritty series focused on a fictional Hackney estate. The brief quote does a succinct job of melding the album's fascination with both heartache and the UK's urban landscape.
This soundbite then gives way to two completely different flavours. Firstly there are ethereal splinters of Swedish electronic outfit Studio's 2007 track "Out There", combined completely unexpectedly guitar motif's from German-Norwegian new-wave band Whitest Boy Alive's "Burning". Across one soaring cut Jamie xx brings in shades of his entire identity – bold electronic soundscapes, focused indie-guitar and the bite of London itself. It is representative of an album that contains shades of so many places, but could only have come from one.