A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Gauzy London dream pop return with their most personal, confrontational, organic, confident record to date – somewhat ironically, considering their busy schedules and prolific use of samples.
The meteoric rise of London’s The XX caught absolutely everybody by surprise – including the band themselves. No one would’ve predicted the dreamy, subdued, confessional male-female vocals, spindly guitars, and moody basslines would’ve caught the attention of an adoring, hungry indie audience. Something in the trio’s emotional introversion, combined with just the right amount of pop acumen and the perfect amount of misty reverb-ed aloofness would strike a chord, similar to bands like Beach House. Their dreamy indie pop surfed a cultural wave, where more private information, where more and deeper inner instincts and experiences were being made public, while we, ourselves, were perhaps more isolated and disconnected than ever before. Or maybe just numb, due to over-stimulation.
On I See You, The XX’s first album in four years, the London trio follow a trajectory all-too-familiar in the world of Indie Rock – a gradual emergence from the fog and fug of lo-fi line noise to the full clarity of HD Pop Fidelity (Think Iron & Wine). Some musicians never fully recover, never sounding as warm, intimate, or special in the full light of the Pop Spectacular. Others learn to make the most of Pop Music’s resources, moving their material to fuller arrangements, trickier song structures, high-profile collaborations – all rendered in glorious hi-fi.
Thanks be to the dark divinities that The XX have managed to strike closer to the latter than the former, improving on 2013’s Coexist, which failed to capture the band’s initial, confessional majesty.
Album opener “Dangerous” lets us know – straight out the gate – that we’re in for a different trip. Bold, bright brass samples meet a lolloping two-step beat, over which the twin vocals of bass player Oliver Sims and Romy Madley Croft twine like dark velveteen ribbons. It’s a little ‘pop clubby’, perhaps a little Everything But The Girl, but there’s still room in this cold, dark world for some poppy, soulful club music. Especially when delivered by some of the underground’s keenest talents.
“Say Something Loving,” shows off The XX’s new direction. A line from The Alessi Brothers‘ 1976 hit “Do You Feel It” gets lost in Jamie XX’s hall of mirrors, shrouded in crystalline digital reverb, only to have Sims and Madley Croft re-contextualize the yearning, heartfelt funk into a 21st Century digital dancehall ballad of insecurity and vulnerability.
These twin polarities – inscrutability and vulnerability, the old and the new, the alien and the familiar – are the twin poles around which I See You orbit and ultimately flourish. The XX speak candidly about their creative process and personal struggles in an extensive feature for Pitchfork Magazine, published a few months prior to the album’s release. It’s not that The XX (or its constituents) are especially bold spotlight seekers, nor are they wilting wallflowers. It’s just that each member is willing to look at themselves, fully and completely, and address the shortcomings they find, to become better people.
In that same feature, they speak at length at some of the struggles that went into making I See You, most pertinently, Jamie XX’s wild lifestyle, and the passing of some of Romy Madley Croft’s dearly beloveds. Rather than sniping and jibing at one another, the band got together and had some very hard, very unnerving conversations and confrontations, funneling all of the tensions (and relief) into the music.
It’s this willingness to be frank, upfront, and bold – both in terms of their music and in their personal lives – that make The XX, and I See You, ultimately triumph. There’s a lot that can be said about the mining and refining of musical styles for Pop Consumption, and a lot of it ain’t good. For every claim of championing, there’s a counter-argument of co-option. As someone who prefers their indie/dream pop gauzy, ephemeral, ethereal, and experimental, and someone who likes their dance music edgy, uncompromising, alien, and unpredictable, The XX’s refinement of underground musical genres to EDM Festival Fare would be most unwelcome, indeed. But, when in service of the music, to marry intimacy and individuality with enough of a pop sensibility to reach a wider audience, it’s hard to find fault.
Favorite Tracks: Dangerous, Performance, Replica, Brave For You
I See You is available on vinyl and digitally, including as a deluxe boxset, directly from the band, as well as all major retailers.
As an additional bonus, we’ve analyzed ‘I See You’ to find the BPM and Key, for easy inclusion in your DJ sets and mixtapes. Got a release you’d like included in our DJ guides, or questions about DJing/mixing/curating? Contact us with DJ Guide in the subject line, and let us know how we can help!
|Song Name||BPM||Song Key|
|Say Something Loving||130.3||A#|
|A Violent Noise||90.3||D#|
|Brave For You||84.4||C#|
|On Hold||125.2||A min|
|I Dare You||126.0||C#|