If you don’t know who The xx is, you should. You’ll probably like their music, given that their distinct ambient sound is the basis for many popular genres now, from electronic to indie to lo-fi music.
The London-based trio, made up of members Romy Madley-Croft (guitar, vocals), Oliver Sim (bass guitar, vocals) and Jamie Smith, also known as Jamie xx (beats, record production), formed when the members were still in high school. They first appeared on the public’s radar in early 2009 with the single “Crystalised,” which sparked a storm of commercial and critical success and led up to their debut album released later that year, self-titled “xx.”
This album would end up winning a Mercury Prize in 2010, awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. Far Out Magazine praised their album as one of the “20 greatest self-titled albums of all time,” up there with Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. NME would later declare The xx’s debut album as the “greatest record of our times,” citing its huge influence on a new style of pop and R&B and warming the seat for a new generation of artists like Banks, London Grammar, James Blake and alt-J.
For these three teenagers making music in their garage late in the night, desperately conscious of waking up their oblivious parents, to be able to later inspire superstars Rihanna, Drake and Lorde, that kind of skill is not just rare, but era-defining.
Their second album, “Coexist,” was released in September 2012 to similarly positive reviews, and would reach No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Rolling Stone exalted The xx as “masters of restraint” and “Coexist” as a “philosophy.”
Their third album, “I See You,” was released in January 2017 to critical acclaim and peaked at No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Pitchfork’s review of the album compliments the “breathtaking production” and “rich and varied sound.”
Even if you haven’t knowingly listened to The xx by now, you’ve listened to The xx.
Their song “I’ll Take Care of You” (by Jamie xx) is the basis for Drake and Rihanna’s hit 2011 song, “Take Care.” The xx’s song “Together” is featured in the soundtrack for the 2013 film “The Great Gatsby,” and the film’s director (Baz Luhrmann) and music producer (Anton Monsted) are apparently “big fans” of The xx’s music. The songs “Fiction” and “Angels” were featured in the drama series “Suits” and “Gossip Girl” respectively. Both Halsey’s “Still Learning” and Dua Lipa’s “Electricity” were co-written by The xx’s Romy.
Rolling Stone was right: The xx’s delicate fingerprints can be felt even years later, ranging from the Chainsmokers’s 2016 hit “Don’t Let Me Down” to Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches” to Zara Larsson’s “Lush Life.
Their soft guitar, prominent bass and ambient soundscape make for a style fit for a variety of musical needs, a product of their compelling blend of musical genres, mixing indie pop, electronic, indie rock, dream pop, electro-rock, R&B and minimalistic lo-fi.
So what have they been up to since their last album in 2017?
They’ve gone on a slew of tours across Europe and America, headlining major music festivals in 2018 and 2019. Although it’s been a while since we have had new music from the group as a whole, there are plenty of solo explorations that are just as fulfilling and exciting.
The xx’s Jamie Smith embarked on his solo flight as Jamie xx in 2015, with the release of his album “In Colour.” “In Colour” is an album as quintessential to U.K. dance culture as you can get — from dubstep to pop to electro, it’s all there. But unlike many club hits, the album is unique in how it places the emphasis on the abstraction and comfort of the production sound, rather than focusing on lyrics or a heady beat drop.
Jamie xx’s most recent song, “Idontknow,” released last year in April 2020, is a swift, percussive song perfect for quarantine, driving the listener out of their self-isolation and into dancing madly in the living room or in the backyard. The music video features dancer Oona flailing (with control and artistry, of course) in time with the frantic, almost aggressive beats.
Romy Madley-Croft, the sotto voce behind many of The xx’s greatest hits, dazzled listeners with the release of her upbeat, house-inspired solo single “Lifetime” earlier in September of 2020. Produced by bandmate Jamie xx, the acid-hued, vibrantly Technicolored track is an ode to the early 2000s club-floor beats that promises a night out to cherish. It’s also an ode to Croft’s own peace with being open with her sexuality, to living life to the fullest. Croft plans to release a full album with 17 songs, slated for release sometime in 2021. Her vision is to create upbeat, easygoing pop music for queer women that she and others can connect to and doesn’t just conform to a stereotype of an acoustic love song. In an interview with The Guardian, Croft explained, “When I was a teenager, and I was looking for explicitly lesbian love songs that I could connect to, I definitely wasn’t finding any pop-dance music. It was more like, lesbian acoustic music.”
Future music for The xx?
The xx have confirmed that a future album is definitely in the works, although the exact release date is up in the air. At the beginning of 2020, The xx publicly announced their intentions to share the new music they’ve all been working on. In an interview with The Guardian on Madley-Croft’s solo album in late September 2020, Madley-Croft anticipated a new, more “playful” approach to The xx’s characteristic black-and-white stripped sound, which “comes from being a bit older and a bit more confident.” She jokingly remarked, “The next xx album is Technicolor, rainbows everywhere!”
Whether The xx returns to their darker roots, aims for a brighter sound or goes in a completely different direction the next time around, fans are eagerly anticipating the release of anything that comes from the terrific trio. Their ability to create so much aesthetic and atmosphere from very little actual sound makes them virtuosos of the void. It’ll be exciting to see what this talented and accomplished band will bring us next.