The XX are a band who are not afraid to take things slow. Childhood friends, Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith (aka Jamie XX) formed the band in 2005 at the age of 17 in their final year of schooling together. Originally a four piece (they dropped a member), the band have only released two albums in the last eleven years but have managed to become one of the most well known bands in the indie alt rock genre and shown their ability to transcend time and remain relevant still in today's music scene. Four years since their previous release, the London band are back this month with their third record, I See You.
(The XX from @thexx)
Croft, Sim and Smith were mere kids when they released their debut album xx in 2009. The critically acclaimed debut was one of the biggest album drops that year, earning the group the Mercury Prize in 2010, top spots on numerous yearly countdowns and a bunch of BRIT award nominations in 2011 (which they sadly lost to Mumford and Sons and Take That…). xx, the album title, symbolised the age of the band at the time of release in roman numerals (20). Part of why they became so popular was the relatability of their youthfulness and naivety to a generation of lost and longing -they were 20 year olds simply singing of themes that resonated with so many young people.
Their lyrics are not terribly complicated and the music itself is minimalistic. Their style is to focus on the duets between Croft and Sim which are emotional tales of love, loss and intimacy. It’s said that Sims and Croft used to text and email each other the lyrics which is the basis of hit song “Islands”. They have this shy and intimate chemistry that makes them seem real and genuine. Their songs have often been mistaken for love songs between Sims and Croft as they have such a connection and intimacy when singing in their hushed duet style, however the pair are both gay and refer more to singing past each other, rather than to each other. The lyrics, although mostly written by one or the other, are able to sound assuring coming from either of them. So why are they so compelling? They have this ability to sync with and weave in, out and around each other with such ease. They create such an emotional reaction while barely making more than a husky whisper sound. Add Jamie XX’s production and beats to that and you get these brilliant tunes.
In person they are as reserved and shy as you would guess from their songs. The three bandmates bear a lot through their music with all songs being very personal but they say they don’t let their outer selves affect much of their music which is part of the reason they don’t put themselves on the front of their album covers. They try to keep it quite organic and to do so they keep a pretty low profile.
In 2012 they followed up with the album Coexist. Recording in s studio built by Smith behind a McDonald's in North London, the band kept that minimalist sound they’d become known for but explored more of a club vibe compared to their debut - it is however not to be mistaken as a dance album. There are moments in the second album you expect things to pick up and they don’t, a beat should drop or a drum should kick in, but that’s what makes them work, they keep people on their toes. They gained another Brit Award nomination for Best British Group but Mumford and Sons pipped them again for a second time! (To be fair though they were a better alternative than One Direction). Coexist followed a theme of a failed relationship and changing love. The band have talked about the difference between the first two albums stating “We started writing the first album when we were 15 years old. I listen back to it and think, "Are you really that dramatic?" I was writing from a different place, I was looking at other people's relationships and making my own stories. It was honest because it was still my feelings, just not necessarily my experiences. This time, I was working off actually having experiences and I found myself being a lot less "moons and stars" and being a lot more literal” (Oliver Sim, Pitchfork 2012). “Going into the first album, we didn't have any expectations, we were just writing for the love of it. This time, I was scared” Jamie Smith (Pitchfork, 2012)
I See You, the bands upcoming album is due for release January 13, 2017. They did a recent spot on SNL, performing the first single off the album “On Hold” and giving us a little glimpse into what we should expect. They had some time in between Coexist and I See You and have talked openly about the individual growth and struggles they experienced during that time - doing their own things, being apart and coming to some realisations. In recent interviews, the group have said the new album is more positive and open than the last two and it's said to be bolder and louder, but until it drops, we just won't know for sure.