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Some people may not have heard of The xx, but they will have certainly heard at least one of their songs, as tracks from their debut album ‘xx’ have been used on virtually every TV show and advert ever made. The iconic guitar riff of ‘Intro’ from their first, Mercury Prize-winning album are instantly recognisable, but they have a whole back catalogue of indie anthems such as ‘VCR’, ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Islands’. Since then, the band have toured the world and even found the time to record their sophomore album ‘Coexist’, released in 2012 to a mixed critical reception as it lacked the ‘hits’ factor that ‘xx’ had.
At the end of the ‘Coexist’ album cycle, Romy, Oliver and Jamie all went their separate ways to work on individual projects, the most notable of these being Jamie xx’s ‘In Colour’. Jamie’s solo project was hugely acclaimed, achieving its own Mercury nomination in 2015, as well as a nomination for Album of the Year at The BRITs. The success of this album reignited the hype surrounding The xx. Back in the studio, they were under pressure to meet the expectations of their die-hard fans whilst simultaneously feeling the urge to create something outside the realm of their traditional sound.
After teasing fans on Instagram over the past year or so, the excitement culminated in the release of 3 short untitled snippets, before the announcement that their third album, ‘I See You’, will be released on 13th January 2017. Whilst the lead single ‘On Hold’ is in the same vein as their previously released material, an evolution seems to have occurred. Firstly, Romy’s tender vocals seem much more pronounced and Oliver’s vocal performance is much deeper and richer than on ‘Coexist’. The influence of Jamie’s electronic, pop-leaning production is clear and in recent interviews, the band have discussed that lyrically ‘I See You’ is a hopeful reflection on the current global political climate and an acknowledgement of the under-represented.
Considering The xx aren’t particularly the cheeriest of bands, this new up-tempo and optimistic sound is surprisingly refreshing. Of course, The xx turning ‘happy’ had to happen eventually if they ever wanted to reach festival headliner status, which is something they appear to be striving for on this album cycle, as they’ve been named as headliners for Lollapalooza across South America in March and have also announced a full UK/EU tour for next February/March, taking in venues such as the Motorpoint Arenas in Nottingham and Cardiff.
So, can it be? Have The xx officially gone ‘mainstream’? The success of ‘I See You’ is pivotal in determining this and it’s an evolution which is certainly not without its risks. They may lose fans, they may gain fans. But the real question ‘indie types’ are pondering, is whether this album can balance critical acclaim and commercial success? And will it be the zeitgeist album that fans have been wishing for?