The crash course: xx marks the spot

The xx

I’ve written a fair bit about the xx, and I’ve loved them since my New Yorker friend Jean convinced me to listen to their first record by sending me the MP3 code to her vinyl record, but no, I’m not watching them perform tonight at the NBC Tent. Tickets are expensive, and I can’t drag my girlfriend to the whole thing because, well, tickets are expensive. And nobody I know who’s interested seems to be watching either, because, well, tickets are expensive. I’d call this crash course a bit of a middle finger to the hipsters who made good music inaccessible – or, are they hipsters? Because a pop station who won’t touch the xx in theory is sponsoring this, bah – but no, I’d call this me being topical. If you’re watching tonight and you haven’t an idea who the xx are, well, you’re welcome. [NB]


“Intro” by the xx | Naturally, we begin with this, the first track to the xx’s almost-eponymous 2009 debut. A brooding introduction to the record that would win them the Mercury Prize in 2010, it’s also the reason why they are credited as co-writers to a Rihanna song. I just wanted to get that out of the way.


“Crystallised” by the xx | The group was formed in 2005, when schoolmates Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Smith began performing together. Baria Qureshi joined shortly after – her guitar work gave XX a raw vibe as opposed to Coexist‘s clubby smoothness – although she would leave shortly after the release of their debut, due to exhaustion or personal differences, depending on who you believe – and Jamie Smith joined in 2006. Their debut’s intrepid mix of dreamy indie pop and (occasionally) jarring post-punk led to critical reviews, but they only really exploded after the Mercury Prize, which saw their album peak at number 3 in the British charts.


“You’ve Got The Love” (Jamie xx Re-work) by Florence + the Machine featuring the xx | Arguably it’s Jamie who shaped the xx’s sound the most. Sure, the occasionally awkward intimacy (especially in the first album; you hear a flourishing in the second) reflected in Romy and Oliver’s songwriting is distinct, but it would all be lost without Jamie’s sparse yet lush soundscapes. A good example is one of his early remixes, where he takes one of Florence + the Machine’s hits and, well, makes it so quiet you start wondering if it is a remix.


“I’ll Take Care of U” by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx | Jamie’s most acclaimed solo work is We’re New Here, which sees him take on the comeback (and, as it turns out, final) studio album from jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. That album already had sparse production – producer Richard Russell attribute it himself to the sounds of the xx – and Jamie was approach to do the remix album, which he did while the xx was on tour. Jamie only took Gil’s vocals and laid it on top of his sounds, and that – alongside the fascinating handwritten letters the two exchanged during the process – made for a compelling release.


“Unfold” by the xx | The band’s songwriting process is also pretty interesting. Much play was made of the fact that Romy and Oliver co-wrote songs by bouncing emails and occasional text messages to each other, leading to an introspective yet open feel to XX – “Frankenstein songs”, as Romy called it. It was only while writing Coexist did they get the chance to work together in the same space. Four of those songs, including “Unfold”, ended up on the record. “When we finished this, it was quite a moment,” Romy told The Guardian. “I definitely felt closer to him.” Considering the hazy feel and the bigger feeling of openness on that record, I can’t imagine what the third album (which is in the works) will sound like…


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