The xx was everyone’s first indie crush when they released their debut album in 2009. Resplendent in moody black outfits and hair that hid their eyes, they enchanted and intrigued the youthful Generation Z. Their minimalist, stripped-back style proved the perfect emotional outlet for teenagers just breaking out of their dad’s record collection to form their own tastes. Seven years later and three records deep, The xx have evolved with their fan base, grown up and matured in their releases. If you’re a seasoned listener and want some reminding, or a newcomer looking for recommendations, look no further than our top five picks of The xx’s essential tracks.
Where better to start than at the absolute beginning? “Intro” is the very first track off their very first album, xx, and is the perfect first impression for the album. The swooping vocals and guitar line entwine together to make a melancholic and memorable melody, setting a fitting tone for the tracks that follow it. “Intro” launches the listener into a wonderful lesson in how to entrance your audience with very few sonic elements, giving you a glimpse at the mastery behind The xx.
After a three-year wait for a follow-up album, Coexist didn’t show a huge departure from the original sound that proved to be a recipe for success for The xx. However, Coexist shows a newfound confidence, exhibited by “Angels”. There is not as much need to show off their technical capability, masterminded by Jamie xx; instead, “Angels” strips right back what minimal instrumentals there were before, letting Romy Madley Croft’s innocent and heartrending vocals take centre stage. This song takes pride in its imperfections, which is precisely what makes it so perfect.
As the lead single for their latest album I See You, “On Hold” is a touching story of star-crossed lovers: a case of right person, wrong time that will surely tap into even the coldest of hearts. The drum loop keeps the track moving, signalling a pacing that differs dramatically from any of their previous releases, and nods to Jamie xx’s 2015 solo release In Colour. The sample is a slightly pitched down warp of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”, the nostalgia of which adds to the tapestry of regret woven into the emotive lyrics.
“VCR” has naivety, innocence and first love all at its core, with the two-note xylophone track embodying just how simple it could all be if we just stripped it all back. The name itself draws together the nostalgia of “On Hold”, and the video for “VCR”, shot in black and white, reduces everything to the essence of itself, so we’re left with a purity almost unimaginable. The transition from black and white to colour by director Marcus Söderland illustrates the song’s insistence upon the elucidating power of young love.
A Violent Noise (Four Tet Remix)
Not strictly by The xx, this Four Tet remix is important in demonstrating how The xx have always bridged the gap between electronic, indie and pop. Whilst their wide appeal and radio play would nominally class them as pop, The xx have always borrowed from a wide variety of styles and genres, including minimalism, indie rock, pop, electronica and techno. Four Tet nods to this as he uses and manipulates the stems taken from “A Violent Noise”, revealing a glimpse of perhaps what The xx could have been in an alternative universe: ambient techno wizards.
The xx play at Lulworth Castle for Bestival next week, with the festival kicking off on Thursday 7th September and running until Monday 11th. A Tribe Called Quest, Pet Shop Boys, Justice and more will also play, and you can find out Top Picks feature here.
Photo courtesy of Laura Coulson