The xx are finally back. It’s felt like forever since their last album, and an even longer forever since their debut. They’ve been busy. Jamie xx has become an indie darling in his own right, producing, DJing and otherwise tinkering on a wide range of projects. That includes his own highly popular In Colour. This new single suggests that the xx’s own centre of gravity has moved in his direction. The Hall & Oates sample (Hall isn’t thrilled about it) and overall house-y vibe has Jamie’s fingerprints all over it.
However Romy and Oliver too are singing with a new direction. Romy in particular is reaching for a warmth and a largeness in her voice that we haven’t seen before. The song suggests a step forward for the band, out of the twilight ambience of their prior work into something far sunnier.
Can you believe xx came out seven years ago? It hasn’t aged a day. The purity of it seems to have immunised it from the ravages of age. To think that Taio Cruz was a big star when that album came out…
I first heard and came to love it when I was completing a lot of night work, an atmosphere that xx is particularly suited to. It really is the sound of midnight. It’s a spooky album. Sparse, full of echo, but not without humanity. Indeed, the warmth of Oliver and Romy’s drowsy vocals is what gives it that edge. ‘VCR’ could be the best song of the decade if ‘Islands’ didn’t appear on the same album.
The simplicity is staggering. The guitar lines rarely extend to more than a few repetitive notes. The groove is hardly there. The drums distant. But this was such a breathe of fresh air at a time when everything on the charts had obnoxious synth loops and auto tune all over it.
The completeness of their vision still amazes me. So few bands launch with such a stark and distinctive sound. Many imitators have followed, not to mention detractors. ‘The xx are about 90% reverb’ as a friend said at the time. But their use of negative space is so genius, and so in contrast with the extremes of EDM and thrashing of indie-rock in which it was conceived. It’s obviously an ode to post-punk and new wave but it doesn’t sound like an homage. It doesn’t sound like a throwback. It reminds me most of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… in it’s moody and restless tone.
Very few electronic effects ever take up much space on record but is has a digital clarity to it, a crispness, and a distance, that makes it hard to imagine it came from people playing in a room together. xx is a real classic, and will be in regular rotation here until I See You drops next year. ‘Crystallised’ still gives me the shivers. ‘Intro’ has been subject to thousands of choppy fan-made remixes for a reason. For all xx‘s simplicity, it’s one of the few albums I love that can conceivably be called genius.