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The xx

+ {Jamie xx}

While one can help thinking of DURUTTI COLUMN sharing a studio with EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL or YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS, ambient electro-soulsters The xx (initially a 2-girl/2-boy outfit), had drawn inspiration from the likes of The CURE, NEW ORDER, COCTEAU TWINS and YAZOO. Winners of the Mercury Music Prize in 2010 for their glorious debut set, and supported by hype-ster rags NME and Rolling Stone, these London dudes personified cool in spades, and illuminated an industry more in touch with the X-Factor than The xx factor.
Formed 2005, around the capital’s Wandsworth area, while still attending their local Elliott School (an establishment almost guaranteeing success, as HOT CHIP, The MACCABEES and FRIDGE could forever testify), singers Romy Madley Croft (also guitar) and Oliver Sim (also bass), were almost immediately joined by guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi and, in turn, beats-boy, Jamie “xx” Smith. Armed with an array of dream-pop tunes, the quartet signed to Young Turks (a fresh division of XL Recordings), and set about laying down and pitching tracks for their debut album. On the back of a couple of well-received singles, `Crystalised’ and `Basic Space’, critical praise was laid upon xx (2009) {*9}, although it only initially flirted with the Top 40; note that Qureshi had now divorced herself from the group.
Despite flop sales returns for subsequent singles/downloads, `Islands’ and `VCR’, one signature tune in particular, `Intro’, was propelled by the media on various documentaries and soundbites. Boosted by its timely promotion on the BBC’s coverage of the following year’s general election (and for NBC’s spread for 2010’s Winter Olympics), the album climbed all the way up to No.3 in the British charts; Top 100 in America. Slow-burner by nature, slow-burner by nurture, one of its many highlights was `Infinity’, despite the grooves sounding remarkably like CHRIS ISAAK’s “Wicked Game”.
Buried in a raft of remix/production duties for everyone from FLORENCE + THE MACHINE, ADELE and RIHANNA, one piece of work that was probably most satisfying was Jamie’s time spent at the decks with GIL SCOTT-HERON’s last-known recordings, “I’m New Here” (2010), billed as a collaborative venture the following year (as “We’re New Here”) just prior to the rapper/poet’s passing. Un-associated was Jamie xx’s first solo 12″ outing of double-header `Far Nearer’ (b/w `Beat For’).
The xx were back on track in 2012 for sophomore set, COEXIST {*8}, a chart-topper and, more importantly, a Top 5 success in the almost impossible to crack American market. Adding a percussive all-sorts-of-instrumentation, producer/engineer/mixer Jamie was certainly the guy who made the band tick, although deadpan crooner Oliver and the sultry Romy adapted well on extra keys and synths. Once again, leaving the tracks from the album to speak – or indeed whisper – for themselves (okay, attendant single `Angels’ cracked the Top 50), highlights were arguably `Chained’, `Try’, `Reunion’ and the subverted soul-mirrorball of `Sunset’.
An exclusive movie download track, `Together’, was released in 2013 to coincide with re-make of The Great Gatsby.
As opposed to monochrome, Jamie xx’s side-line solo career really got underway for the Top 3 IN COLOURS (2015) {*8}. In many ways still a “xx” project, as it featured a truly deeply Romy Madley Croft on both `SeeSaw’ and `Loud Places’ plus Oliver Sim on `Stranger In A Room’, the record only steered away from his musical community when explicit US rapper YOUNG THUG and Jamaican reggae/dancehall-er POPCAAN were added to the mix (and credits) on minor hit `I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’. Stretching as far back as the previous year for double-A-side, `Girl’ and `Sleep Sound’, there were also splashes of FOUR TET paintwork from the palette of Kieran Hebden; opening dub/jungle salvo `Gosh’ turned anxiety into an artform.
On the back of a Top 40 hit, `On Hold’, The xx were finally back in circulation at the dawn of 2017 by way of chart-topping album, I SEE YOU {*8}. An inevitable switch from sedate and seductive, to swifter and sophisticated, for the most part, this plaintive proposition surpassed its predecessors a tad; in the process the record felt more of a group affair. The opening drum ‘n’ bass type, `Dangerous’, was in stark contrast to other minor hits, `Say Something Loving’ and the title track, and when the refine Romy’s range increased in scale and passion on `Lips’ and `Performance’, one was convinced they’d made the right move to change tack.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2013-Jan2017

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