Music reviews: Jamie XX, Florence and the Machine, Major Lazer
Electronic music producer Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx and one-third of London indie band The xx, was not even born when rave music emerged in Britain in the late 1980s, yet the 25-year-old’s fascination with the culture certainly runs deep.
If we can judge by his previous remix work and this long-awaited debut solo album, In Colour, his understanding of the genres that make up the underground scene is extensive. Blending bleeps, bloops and breakbeats, with euphoric synth runs and hushed vocals from his xx bandmates, the album sounds simple on first listen, but dig beneath the surface of layered melodies, and there’s a lot going on.
Opener Gosh sounds like a proper dance-floor banger, but in fact it’s a cleverly gathered collection of garage elements mixed with a long melancholic groove that sounds strangely fresh and nostalgic. The feeling continues throughout, as Smith shows a unique talent for producing an album that transports you back to those glorious heady days, when dance music was truly dance music, and yet still sounds so invigorating.
Jamie xx In Colour (Young Turks)
As the unofficial "queen of theatrical grand choruses", lead vocalist Florence Welch could belt out albums about recycling and walking the dog and they would still soar majestically into the night, selling millions as they went.
Thankfully the third album by Florence and the Machine, the follow-up to 2011's platinum-selling Ceremonials, sticks to matters of the heart[ache], which provide the emotional foil for Welch's rich and unique vocals. After two albums of operatic grandeur, it's immediately noticeable that the stripped-back How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a far more spacious album.
The impact here comes from a brooding, keenly harnessed sound. That's not to say it's an album lacking thrill and wonder, because the first two songs alone - the driving Ship to Wreck and stellar lead single What Kind of Man - are as striking and gigantic as anything Flo has bellowed before. But it's the softer, bluesier moments ( Mother, and Various Storms & Saints) that really show how spectacular and soulful her voice can be, and makes this album their most accomplished to date.
Florence and the Machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Island Records)
With the premiere earlier this year of the Major Lazer animated series - a superhero cartoon set in a dystopian Jamaica - what was once a side project for American DJ-producer Diplo has now become his full-time day job.
When performing live, Major Lazer are a throbbing beast of a dance-hall-electro collective, and their third album, Peace is the Mission, looks set to storm the dance tents this summer. If there's one tune sure to get the festival crowds jumping, it's Too Original, a bombastic neon mash-up of Swedish rapper Elliphant and Jamaican vocalist Jovi Rockwell over an infectious head-bopping party beat. If this doesn't plaster a grin across your face, then you're probably already dead. Its energy levels are almost equalled by the frenetic Blaze Up the Fire and the ska-tastic Roll the Bass, but even the quieter moments are bursts of brilliant colour.
Ellie Goulding and reggae artist Tarrus Riley appear on the polished ballad Powerful, the most radio friendly track, and DJ Snake and Danish singer MO collaborate on the pumping club anthem Lean On.
Major Lazer Peace is the Mission (Mad Decent)