The xx are a Mercury Music Prize winning group hailing from London and they are true pioneers of the modern era of alternative electronic music, particularly with their stunning 2009 eponymous debut album. This album is their third release and it comes four and a half years after their second album ‘Coexist’ which saw the band take new turns in their musical endeavours and we have the same expectations for this one here, especially after hearing the singles they have had to offer us. They are one of my favourite bands and as soon as this album was announced my levels of excitement soared through the roof so I have increasingly high hopes that they can deliver once again and confirm their place as the top dogs in the alternative music genre.
Dangerous – 9/10:
It is apparent to see the influence of producer Jamie xx here as this rocking electro-funk beat dominates the track and starts this album off with a certain attitude and persona unlike anything the band have attempted before, but it is certainly something Jamie himself has explored in his debut solo album of 2015, ‘In Colour’. The introduction of the haunting vocal duo of Romy and Oliver really gives this song a new dimension and sound and it creates a great personality for the band here, suggesting perhaps a pick-up in mood and emotion from their previous two albums which have often been described as very moody and upsetting pieces of work, irregardless of the brilliance they show within them. A really great start to this album and the unique flavour it brings makes you very excited for what is to come.
Say Something Loving – 9/10:
When I first heard this song as the second single, I really wasn’t that blown away but after giving it more of a chance, it just works brilliantly and now I love it. The vocal performance is one of the best on the album and it’s a personal favourite performance from Romy in particular as she demonstrates her range to devastating effect. The best element of this song is without doubt the connection that Oliver and Romy get as they sing together about love and the words we use to describe the love we have for someone, it is like they are singing it to each 0ther and this is a technique that is essential to the style of The xx in my opinion. The chorus is one of the most catchy ones I have heard in a while and above all, the track fits in fantastically with the flow of the album. Great single.
Lips – 8/10:
Starts off sounding like a Fleet Foxes song with the haunting vocal harmonies but it quickly strays off into it’s own direction, mainly in thanks to the steady progression of yet another high quality Jamie xx instrumental. The thing with this song that makes it so cool is the layers of it, especially in the chorus where we hear that choral harmony again but it is then overlapped by the typical xx vocals of Romy and Oliver and it sounds great. The beat switch-ups are poignant and unique as we here a huge variety of sound coming from this one and that makes it all the more interesting. Not quite on the level of the first two but it certainly is a good track.
A Violent Noise – 8.5/10:
This is the first song of the tracklist so far to have more of a throwback xx sound to it as this one carries a bigger echo and a steadier state of progression in the verse, that is until Jamie puts in a layered beat that sounds like it could smash an Ibiza club night and the whole thing gets louder and louder until we hear the lyrics “a violent noise” where everything comes to a halt and we seem to start over again with the instrumental and Romy takes over as opposed to Oliver in the first verse. It is a great song and I am glad it doesn’t veer off into the tangent of EDM music because it could have very easily done so with a beat like that.
Performance – 9/10:
The bass riff on this song is so stubborn and poignant it reminds me of a classic xx song with that increasingly heavy string playing and the simplicity of their chords. A really haunting performance from Romy and the song itself is just as dark and mysterious, something which has become a staple of the band’s image and style. It makes me really glad when they make songs like this because although I do enjoy seeing bands progress and going off in new directions, it is always nice to hear the occasional journey back to what made people love them, and that’s exactly what they have done here. The orchestral involvement in the backing track is fantastic and adds real legs to the isolated guitars and helps with the eerie nature of the song. Brilliant.
Replica – 6/10:
The funk is brought back to some extent here as we hear a very subtle piece of smooth guitar playing and a finger snapping drum beat. Unfortunately no album is perfect and this track is the weakest song on here, there are a few aspects I enjoy but as a whole it’s just a bit of a dud track. I do enjoy the harmonies in the chorus where the vocals join together and create a big sound but the verses are just a bit dull and the whole thing is a slight anti-climax really. There are also quite a few loose ends in the instrumental which I find odd given how much of a perfectionist Jamie is, but it seems a bit scrappy and thrown together in places. This one is a bit of a disappointment in all honesty and I am not sure why it is included really.
Brave For You – 8.5/10:
A beat which sounds fresh off his solo album, Jamie xx bounces back again with a huge instrumental and a wonderfully structured song. It warms me inside as to how fantastic they are as a group at making what could quite easily be club bangers into something experimental and unlike anything you’ve heard, it is a rare and quite remarkable skill that they possess. Romy once again delivers a great vocal performance and a backing track like this suits her style down to the ground as she can do her thing in somewhat of a varied tone, whether it be dominant on the odd occasion or more hushed in certain areas. In short I really enjoy this song and all the avenues it explores in the short time it is on for.
On Hold – 10/10:
Released at the latter stages of 2016 and it rapidly became one of my favourites of the whole year. With a comeback song it can often be very difficult to prove to fans what they have been missing but when you have a man like Jamie xx at the helm of your projects, there is no need to worry. Sampling Hall & Oates in the most fantastic way imaginable, the whole song is just destined for magnificence from start to finish, whether it be the combination of Romy and Oliver bouncing off each other’s parts of the track perfectly, or the brilliance of the track’s instrumental and it’s staggered snares. It is just stunning and goes down as one of the best songs they have ever released, it is right up there with the likes of Islands and Crystalised.
I Dare You – 8/10:
This follows on from On Hold quite well actually and as you are about to discover, it sets us up steadily for the final song on this album and it is this structure which makes this song so essential to the album’s flow. It isn’t the best song I will ever here in my life but I definitely enjoy it and I particularly enjoy the constant drums to keep the track in place and keep everything in check. Once again the vocal harmony between Oliver and Romy in the chorus is majestic and thoroughly listenable to say the least. The bridge is probably the highlight of this song as it fades beautifully into the final chorus and adds a real echoing sound to the whole track and it really wraps things up very nicely for a more than tolerable track. Good stuff once again.
Test Me – 10/10:
The vocal and the beat go hand-in-hand here to create a big finale to the album and leave you hanging on the end of an emotional rollercoaster, not least from this song which is a heartbreaking ballad about arguments within relationships and the effects they have on those involved. The tone of the vocal is once again delivered with absolute perfection to fit the atmosphere created by the song itself and credit has to go to Romy for that who I’ve been rightfully praising throughout this album, it’s hard not to when she does her job this well from start to finish. Easily the most chilling and moody song on the whole album as it destroys emotion and really brings you onto their level and the instrumental in the latter stages of the song are magical in the sense that they are used to show the voices in the head of these people and the struggles they deal with. Incredible stuff.
Overall – 9/10:
It is hard to say a bad word about this thing really. Apart from Replica, in my opinion it is right up there with their other work and could well be one of the best albums 2017 has to offer and considering we are only in January, for me to make a statement like that then it must be pretty good. I absolutely love the structure of this thing as each song flows very nicely, particularly towards the end of the project where we slowly begin to fade into this slower sound but it is still sonically incredible. The singles are great, the rest of it is just as great and the production is masterful as always. This lot never fail to deliver do they.