It’s usually at this point in the calendar year that most music pundits have registered their preliminary favorites for the album that they will crown as the best of the year once early December rolls around.
2015, a year as deep in “great” to “excellent” records as any in recent memory, provides a wealth of options worth rushing the pulpit for: Father John Misty’s sophomore (not sophomoric) record I Love You, Honeybear, Sufjan Stevens’ return to eloquently depressive folklore Carrie & Lowell, Kendrick Lamar’s missive of Black self-worth To Pimp A Butterfly, Australian auteur Courtney Barnett’s earth-scorching debut full-length Sometimes I Sit and Think…, and triumphant returns from the American punk goddesses in Sleater-Kinney and the Icelandic savant Bjork, among many others. There is, however, a widely acknowledged dark horse in these conversations – In Colour, the entrancing inaugural record from British wunderkind Jamie xx.
Known most of the world over at this point for his drum pad programming and production as a member of the (maybe a bit too) lionized indie pop outfit The xx, Jamie Smith has still managed to find the inspiration to take on a dual role as the mastermind behind an essential entry into the canon of electronic music and as the puppeteer of one of the most relentlessly moving live performances on the road today.
Jamie’s performance, as relayed last night to a half-full Marathon Music Works (Nashville’s most underachieving music venue), was one filled with equal parts unrestrained ecstasy and guarded disdain. The push and pull of modern live music is best described, in its simplest terms, as “songs the crowds knows and modestly enjoys” and “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?” Smith, despite having wrangled a couple hundred paying folks – mostly of a younger demographic – exemplified this problem in an unintentional manner, interspersing obscure soul records from his massive vinyl collection as interludes between material from In Colour and previous solo efforts.
From my position towards the front of the stage, it seemed to me that this socially aloof Brit (whose stage setup was purposefully sans any sort of microphone) was trying to the very edge of his physical capability, to convince the audience of the legitimacy of his highly specialized artform, as opposed to simply making them move. However, his efforts to overcome the latter mentality seemed to not work quite as well. I found the decision to break up his well-known solo material with simply spinning tracks from his record collection to be inspired and respectful to the history of his profession, but as with most electronic music crowds, the lack of the craved tension release (the “drop”, if you will) seemed to put a damper on some stretches of Jamie’s 90-minute set. Despite the reservations expressed by some audience members toward his decision to space out his In Colour tracks throughout set, I walked out of Jamie xx’s show thinking that he might be one of the most innovative prodigies in modern music, a paragon of his particular genre but a pariah when the discussion devolves to talking about “real” music.
Though I found myself rapturously reeling from Smith’s 90-minute DJ set, I quickly realized it would be hard to convince the majority in this theoretically music-rich city that what I witnessed was worth the consideration that I was affording it. There’s just so much talent here, right? Emigrants from across the country, guitars bonded to their backs, pursuing the dream in desolate country bars populated by middle Americans. Hell, you can throw a rock in East Nashville right now, and you’re bound to hit a former Angeleno that thinks their electropop band is the heir apparent to Passion Pit, or at least whoever is being played on Lightning 100 these days. The next Luke Bryan is somewhere bringing glasses to the bar and hoping for a halfway decent tip out at the end of the night.
Meanwhile, Jamie Smith the DJ, shattered this notion of the “real” music that supposedly gives Nashville its most famous nickname, instead mediating the experience of listening and feeling, simply by concentrating on what sounds good. He might not have said a word on stage, but his performance was a shout from the mountaintop.
Words and Photos by Kevin Brown