The xx are going to have a big year in 2017. A VERY big year. In case you haven’t heard, the group dropped their much anticipated third studio album, I See You today. The London-based trio has slowly been assembling an army of loyal fans since their out-of-nowhere bursting onto the scene in 2009. And although most casual music fans may recognize the groovy “Intro” for its usage in television programs and advertisements, the band is still largely off the map for most… But not for long. In describing their style, like basically every other artist profiled on this blog, it’s easy to draw a blank. Indie rock? Technically, yes. Despite their robust fan base and growing global popularity, the band still resides on English-independent label “Young Turks.” At the same time, the xx aren’t typically mentioned in the same breath as other indie rock mainstays like Modest Mouse or Vampire Weekend. So, alternative rock then? Nope, I don’t know about everyone else but I haven’t heard their signature spacey sound on many Black Keys or Foo Fighters tracks on the radio lately. And while the third and arguably most ‘important’ member of the group is strictly a producer who plays no live instruments, it would be a massive stretch to label the xx as a hip-hop or (ugh) EDM ensemble. So what makes them so great? Their originality, which is on display in the fantastic I See You.
(skip to around 1:15 mark)
The legend of the xx is rooted back in London, where the future band mates all attended the Elliot School, a prestigious school known for churning out other famous British artists and musicians. The group originally formed as a foursome, the core consisting of Romy Croft on guitar/vocals, Oliver Sim on bass/vocals, and the sensational Jamie XX (Jamie Smith) serving as the backbone of the band acting as producer and beat maker. After displaying their early songs on social media sites, the band was offered a record deal by Young Turks and subsequently dropped their first album in 2009. The self-titled debut was a massive hit and put the band on the map globally, racking up heaps of critical acclaim in the process. The album landed on a variety of “Best Album of the Year” (and even of all-time) lists, an honorable distinction given their relatively unknown status prior to its release. As is tradition, the xx then made a name for themselves at seemingly every notable music festival the following summer, honing their craft and garnering a wider fan base along the way. The band trimmed the fat to its current three-member lineup prior to the second release Coexist in 2012. Coexist picked up where the trio left off three years earlier on the xx, both stylistically and in critical praise. However, touring slowed down after the sophomore release as the band members pursued individual endeavors. In fact, Jamie xx fucked around and got a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica album for his solo effort In Colour last year.
As I said up there in the first paragraph, the xx truly have their own style. “Upbeat” is certainly not a word often used to describe the early outputs from the band. The songs are spacey, dreamy arrangements, but are able to achieve legitimate head-nod/foot-tap status when coupled with Jamie xx’s creative drum beats. Croft’s guitar relies on disconnected, slower riffs instead of poppy chords, while Sim’s bass hums along in equally lowkey and detached fashion. When mixed in with their aesthetically hushed vocals, the result is their beautifully stripped down, signature minimalist sound. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, give the songs “Islands” or “Tides” a listen. You will be pleasantly surprised. And if I’m wrong, then check out the album released today I See You. The album takes a bit of a departure stylistically from their first two efforts, due largely to Jamie xx’s personal foray and increasing involvement in electronic dance music. In I See you, we undoubtedly hear the band use more uplifting melodies which should make for a different, more energetic live experience. However, fans of the old “less is more” approach need not worry – there are a few slower jams to keep you satisfied.
The band will most certainly be playing in a town near you, wherever you may live, this summer. Bonnaroo and Coachella slots have been confirmed, along with a host of other festivals as well as headlining tour dates. My Chicago friends can (and should) feel free to join me in seeing them at the Aragon Ballroom on May 1st. I caught their set at Bonnaroo back in 2010 and was impressed with the dimmed-out, sleek presentation they showcased back then. However something tells me this summer’s show will be a little bit different…
Suggested Tracks: “Islands””On Hold” “Intro” “Crystalised” “Angel” “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”- Jamie xx
Oddities: Before opting to work by themselves, legendary music producer Diplo was producing the band prior to the 2009 debut.
Tour Dates: http://thexx.info/tour/
Photo Credits: thexx.info/, Wallpapersdsc.net, factmag.com