Remember how raw your emotions were when experiencing firsts such as first love, first break-up and first loss? These compositions by The xx somehow bottle collective heartbreak, luxuriating in vulnerability and pain. Even during the more upbeat tracks, I See You (Young Turks/Remote Control) is a soundtrack for dancing with tears in your eyes.
Here's what Bryget Chrisfield thought about the brand new album, as she heard it for the first time.
Trumpet bursts through your speakers like a town crier’s “Hear ye!” A shuffling, danceable beat with hi-hats aplenty and Oliver Sim’s dreamy vocals that are capable of hypnotising the toughest customer. Soon he’s joined by Romy Madley Croft; the pair singing together, overlapping. Then Madley Croft takes a verse. Sirens approach. “They say you are dangerous, but I don’t care/I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.” A hollow bass sound echoes and resonates. The xx are in da club!
2. Say Something Loving
Piano intro, a distant chorus: “Before it slips awaaaaaaay.” That title, though — what a bloody beautiful sentiment! This one’s for the chill-out room. We actually can’t decide which voice we prefer, Sim’s or Madley Croft’s? So soothing and velvety, both of them. Skittish drum beats, sparse guitars and droney keys. “Am I too needy?/Am I too eager?” Swoooooooon. Never. Pass the smelling salts, please.
“Just your love...” — a choir over descending, arpeggiated sounds (glockenspiel?). Occasional hand claps. This pace is more of a slow side-step (with clap). We could never get sick of these longing vocals, they positively melt into a puddle of yearning.
4. A Violent Noise
Gentle, harmonising guitars strum, Sim’s vocals — so debonair. Diction is perfect, throughout, to adequately showcase extraordinary lyricism: “Am I too high?/Am I too proud?/Is the music too loud?/[Pause] For me to hear.” In comes Madley Croft, like the girlfriend who’s sick of waiting for her boo to come home from the recovery. Then the sonics go all bleepy and discordant as if heard through a tunnel. Absolutely stunning stuff.
Sustained, melancholy strings. “If I scream at the top of my lungs, will you hear what I don’t say?” Madley Croft inquires, sounding absolutely crushed. Strings shimmer to emphasise pathos and then a guitar gently weeps as our protagonist’s heart breaks while she puts on a Performance, pretending she’s holding it together. This is a Madley Croft-only track, the first song on this album to feature just one of The xx’s singers. Is it tragic that we miss Sim?
Welcome back, Sim! Replica’s instrumentation evokes Gotye’s Hearts A Mess (fuck, we miss Wally!). Even if they’re not singing about relationships, it always seems like it because of the dual vocals. Is that flute? It’s probably synth that sounds like flute, but, whatever. It's playful and fun (by The xx’s standards). There are parts during this song where the vocals are so high up in the mix that it’s almost a cappella. Guitar mimics the vocal melody.
7. Brave For You
Madley Croft sings over minimal keys chords and a simple guitar melody that sounds inquisitive and then forlorn, rejected. Some uncharacteristically busy drumming makes us visualise a coupla tom-toms falling down the stairs. This is another Madley Croft-only track: “And when I’m scared/I imagine you there/Telling me to be brave.” Bass vibrates, the cacophonous drums are back and then guitar shimmers. “There are things I wish I didn’t know/I’ll try my best to let them go.”
8. On Hold
You've probably already heard this one, it's the album’s lead single and an absolute standout. Yes, that’s a Hall & Oates sample I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do). There’s static noise throughout, which strangely doesn’t annoy. Synths drone and the best of both of these vocalists is showcased via alternating verses. Ever had that experience where you don’t wanna commit to someone in case there’s something better around the corner only to witness said back-burner person hooking up with another and therefore missing the opportunity and feeling shit about it? Well, it serves ya right for being greedy! (“When and where did we go cold?/I thought I had you on hold.”) The chorus is irresistible, bouncing around in all directions like popcorn cooking in a microwave-safe bag. An absolute belter that will destroy at festivals. A pogoing anthem.
9. I Dare You
A slow, marching beat. Both sing in unison: “Oh-ho-oh/Go on, I dare you.” The “Oh-ho-oh” part sounds like Kings Of Leon (Use Somebody), which they’d probably hate to read — or it could be a sample? The xx are always “on a different kind of high”, which is okay with us. Guitar mimics Sim’s vocal melody. Everything always sounds so poignant when sung by this pair: “I can hear it now like I heard it then.”
10. Test Me
“I. Don’t. Know. Where. I. Went wrong/Tell. Me. Should. I. See someone.” Piano plonks out the rhythm for Madley Croft’s vocal delivery. Atmospheric drone identifies itself as sombre brass. “Test me/See if I stay.” We swear we hear scattered rain drops (or, more likely, tears?) falling into a body of water. Is that theremin? As devastating as a death wail. Synths throb.