Atmospheric English indie pop group the xx formed in London around the talents of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, Baria Qureshi, and Jamie Smith, when the bandmembers were still in high school. Captivating and cool, the group cites influences that run the gamut from R&B (Aaliyah and Rihanna) to classic alternative rock (the Cure and the Pixies). Built around the duel vocals of Croft and Sim, the group's signature brand of moody, soulful indie rock first appeared on the public radar in early 2009 with the single "Crystalised," which created a huge buzz among critics and fans alike. The xx released their self-titled debut LP in July of that year in the U.K.; it was released in the U.S. the following month. Late that year, Qureshi was no longer part of the group; the rest of the xx released a statement via NME saying this was due to "personal differences." During 2010, the live dates continued, including spots at several high-profile summer festivals, and in September, their album won Britain's coveted Mercury Prize. Meanwhile, Smith worked with Gil Scott-Heron on the remix album We're New Here (in turn spawning the Drake song "Take Care," which sampled the pair's "I'll Take Care of U"). In mid-2012, a pair of singles, "Angels" and "Chained," heralded the release of the group's second album, Coexist, that September. The following year, the band's song "Together" appeared on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The xx began working on their third album in 2014, and recorded in locales as varied as Marfa, Texas, London, Reykjavik, and Los Angeles. Jamie xx's solo debut In Colour, which featured contributions from Sim and Croft, arrived in 2015. Late in 2016, the single "On Hold" introduced the more energetic, eclectic direction of I See You, which was released in January 2017.
© James Christopher Monger /TiVo
© James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 15, 2009 | Young
Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music - Mercury Prize Winner
Debuts as fully formed and confident as the xx's self-titled first album are rare, but then, there is very little that is typical about this band or their music. Their influences are wide-ranging -- traces of post-punk, dream pop, dubstep, indie pop, and R&B pop up at any given moment -- but are focused into songs that are as simple as they are unique and mysterious. These tracks are so sleek, they're practically sculptural, and they boast impeccably groomed arrangements. The beats pulse rather than crash; the guitars are artfully picked and plucked; and the vocals rarely rise above a wistful sigh. This restraint and sophistication make the fact that the xx's members were barely in their twenties when they recorded the album all the more impressive; artists twice their age would be proud to call the maturity and confidence that flow seemingly effortlessly through the xx their own. Even their song titles are the perfect mix of concise and evocative: "Stars," "Shelter," "Night Time" (actually, all of their songs could be named this -- they're that intimate and sleepily cool). The moody, monochromatic sound the xx sets forth on "Intro" is lovely enough, but it's how the band subtly shifts and tweaks it on each track that makes the album truly special. "VCR"'s innocent guitars hint at the band's fondness for Young Marble Giants' radically simple indie pop, while "Infinity" leans more heavily on their post-punk roots, and "Heart Skips a Beat" underscores its name with wittily fractured rhythms. And while singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim sound good on their solo turns (Sim particularly shines on the spacious "Fantasy"), together they're truly inspired -- the aloof sensuality they generate makes romantic intrigue actually intriguing again. "Crystalised" might be one of the more intense songs here, but it still carries the confessional quality of a conversation between lovers, reaffirming what "heart-to-heart" really means. The standout "Basic Space" takes Croft and Sim's push-pull chemistry in an even more pop direction, but it's still awash in subtly fascinating details like its exotically rolling beat and Durutti Column-esque guitars. While the band's subtlety and consistency threaten to work against them at times, XX is still a remarkable debut that rewards repeated listens and leaves listeners wanting more. © Heather Phares /TiVo