Festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, can be read through here.

SXSW 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012

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Video of the Moment #2322: The xx

 
By on Monday, 20th March 2017 at 10:00 am
 

The start of the year saw the release of the xx‘s latest album ‘I See You’, which proves probably as polarising as Jamie xx’s own 2015 debut ‘In Colour’. They’ve gone less moody and…happy! Carrie describes this as ” a fresh take on the band’s established sound” in her review of their third long player. In ‘Say Something Loving’, previously released as a single, Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim trade lovey-dovey statements and frankly, it makes me uncomfortable as the band try taking a lo-fi approach to zoom in shots of the band while the slick song runs in the background. Oddly, some people are saying that they look like pop pin-ups in this. Was that the intention? I suppose as they say, good art should make you feel something, and this is definitely making me feel…something. Watch the music video for ‘Say Something Loving’ below.

 

Album Review: the xx – I See You

 
By on Friday, 27th January 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

the xx I See You coverIf a new band with a wildly successful debut album falls victim to the so-called “sophomore slump” with their second release, then their third album is inevitably viewed as a comeback effort of sorts. Such has apparently been the case with London indie pop trio the xx, who recently released ‘I See You’, the follow up to their 2009 debut ‘xx’ and 2012 sophomore LP ‘Coexist’.

For the xx, album number three came after a slight detour. The year 2015 saw band member Jamie xx (aka Jamie Smith) put out a solo album titled ‘In Colour’, which our own editor Mary described as “polarising” in her essay from June of that year. ‘In Colour’ wasn’t a complete separation for Jamie xx and his bandmates (the xx co-lead singer Romy Madley-Croft contributed vocals), and as far as sonic colour is concerned, ‘I See You’ is similarly entwined with Smith’s solo work.

The brighter-than-expected overall tone colour of ‘I See You’ leans heavily on Smith’s electro-dance production talents throughout the album. This is not to say that the xx have delved into sunny-sweet pop, only that they’ve lightened things up a bit, and added some texture as well. Album opener ‘Dangerous’ is a prime example, starting off with a chorus of brass and bouncing steadily along to Smith’s beat-driven shuffle. The vocal lines provided by Madley-Croft and Oliver Sims are relegated to secondary status behind the bold statements made in the instrumental arrangement.

Sims and Madley-Croft have their moment soon enough in second track and recent single ‘Say Something Loving’. Their voices are perhaps nothing special individually, but the interplay between them as they trade lyrical lines is sinuous and smooth. The song’s chorus lyrics evolve with each repetition, and both singers hit the emotional target as muted cynicism (“say something loving / I just don’t remember the thrill of affection”) becomes fluttering hope (“you say something loving / it’s so overwhelming, the thrill of affection”) and vulnerable self-expression (“I say something loving / I can’t hold it inside, the thrill of affection”).

The middle of the album becomes a bit wrapped up in its own dark, downtempo production vibe, but while the songs run together, there are still a few moments of brilliance. Sims’s voice is subtle and smooth against the sharp-edged backdrop of Smith’s synths in ‘A Violent Noise’, while Madley-Croft’s vocals in ‘Performance’ are poignantly fragile, laid over a stark, strikingly minimalist instrumental setting.

The album’s lead single ‘On Hold’, featured by editor Mary in this past In the Post, was chosen for good reason. It’s really the only song on the album with a distinct pop hook. While certainly not upbeat, it does pick up the rhythmic pace a little bit, and it allows the album to rebuild some of the momentum lost in the middle section. ‘I Dare You’ has a similar rhythmic energy and radio-friendly quality, and Madley-Croft’s lead vocal in the lines “I’ve been a romantic for so long / all I’ve ever heard are love songs” is as enticing here as it was in the album’s opening tracks. But it’s Smith, in the end, who has the figurative last word in the dark and shadowy final track ‘Test Me’, scored with subtle brass behind the vocal lines and echoing ambient synth sounds in the extended coda.

‘I See You’ is undoubtedly a product of the xx’s growth, both as a group and as individual musicians. While Smith’s contribution is perhaps the most pronounced change, it says something for the musicianship of Madley-Croft and Sims that they have been able to adapt stylistically and adopt a fresh take on the band’s established sound.

7.5/10

The xx’s third LP ‘I See You’ is out now on Young Turks. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of the xx is collected back here.

 

Video of the Moment #2232: the xx

 
By on Wednesday, 30th November 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

As mentioned in this In the Post I wrote last week here on TGTF, in case you’ve been living under a rock, surprise! The xx are back! Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith have reconvened to announce their third album ‘I See You’, slated for release the 13th of January 2017. They even guested on Saturday Night Live in America to celebrate. The first taster from ‘I See You’ is ‘On Hold’, which comes across a little weird to me, primarily for the weak rhymes employed in it (read that In the Post for more of my thoughts on the single). Now, rather predictably, the song has its own promo. No longer the shy, introspective goths we thought they were back in 2009, their ‘new’ pop sound is matched visually with…high school students? Er, right… Watch it below. If you wish to regale yourself with our past coverage of their former shadowy selves, go here.

 

In the Post #156: the xx return with ‘I See You’ album taster ‘On Hold’

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

the xx first burst on the scene nearly a decade ago as dream pop misfits. Touring as support for their Beggars Group peers Friendly Fires, it was hard to see that superstardom loomed on the horizon for this unconventional band with complementary male and female lead vocals. Yet the music from their 2009 self-titled and Mercury Prize-winning debut album released on Young Turks proved irresistible to tv sync producers and the media alike, their songs appearing on promos for NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the BBC’s coverage of the 2010 general election. Soon, they were selling out venues with no trouble at all, and their was on everyone’s lips.

Their sophomore album, 2012’s ‘Coexist’, garnered top marks from nearly every music review outlet across the board. Then there was a strange and unexplained silence. I’d argue that their mention in spring 2014 that they were working on album #3 was simply dangling a carrot and doing no-one any favours; to me, you’ve got new music or you don’t, don’t play with the emotions of your devoted fans. In summer 2015, their beats master Jamie Smith who is professionally known as Jamie xx released his debut album ‘In Colour’. In a surprise move, exemplary single ‘Loud Places’ and ‘SeeSaw’ from the album featured the vocals of his xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, who with other xx member Oliver Sim were seen posing in a photo on Instagram with Smith. Were the xx on their way back to us?

So, xx fans, you’ll be pleased to know that their third album ‘I See You’ will be released on the 13th of January 2017 on Young Turks. The week of the election, I really wasn’t in the right mindset to listen and to appropriately deliberate on the their new song to preview their new LP. A week and a half after its unveiling, I’m ready now, and I can’t help but be discoursed by what I hear. In a weird instance of art imitating life, it seems that in music that assimilation, instead of celebrating differences and pushing boundaries, is the chosen route to success.

‘On Hold’ is not about a phone conversation but a relationship that was put on the back burner, with the principals sadly finding out that love can’t thrive in a vacuum. Neglect, as some of us have learned firsthand, often strikes a bond of love stone cold dead. The best part of the song are Madley-Croft and Sim’s trademark gently competing vocals, but the painful rhymes built into this song (“when or where did we go cold / I thought I had you on hold”) are cringeworthy. The beats of Jamie xx, while fun, dance floor worthy and I guess a nice segue on from ‘In Colour’, fill up what always was welcome negative space on past xx efforts. I view this as a major misstep. The most important graphic artists of modern times weren’t afraid of negative space. They were viewed as revolutionaries because they didn’t follow everyone else. And sometimes – and especially in these volatile times – the world needs artists confident enough to go against the grain. I don’t hear anything in here that makes me go “wow!” or “that’s amazing!”

The band were the musical guests on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live; NME noted how awkward the group looked onstage at 30 Rock in their goth cowboy attire. Not exactly . Maybe their misfit personalities that we fell in love in the beginning will become more prominent on the rest of ‘I See You’? Here’s to hoping…

6.5/10

Stay tuned for the xx’s third album ‘I See You’, which is due for release on the 13th of January 2017. An audio stream version of ‘On Hold’, the lyrics noted in the comments in ‘screaming’ capital letters, is available below. For much more of TGTF’s coverage of the xx, use this link.

 

Live Gig Video: Jamie xx and friends perform ‘Loud Places’ from his debut album ‘In Colour’ on Seth Meyers

 
By on Friday, 19th June 2015 at 4:00 pm
 

Jamie xx released this month an album that will likely go down in the annals of popular history as one of the most polarising releases in electronic and dance music. You can read my essay on the industry’s response here.

An early taster from ‘In Colour’, the single ‘Loud Places’, features the ethereal lead vocals from Jamie’s xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, so when the time came to play this live on late night American television, it made total sense to include her, along with the xx’s bassist Oliver Sim, as part of the performance. With a full band and a bevy of gospel backup singers, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears to behold. Watch it below.

 

You’re in Ecstasy Without Me: How Jamie xx and his debut album ‘In Colour’ managed to polarise the entire music industry

 
By on Friday, 5th June 2015 at 11:00 am
 

The 1st of June 2015 will forever be marked by the highly-anticipated release of the debut solo album by Jamie Smith, known better by his now longtime alter-ego Jamie xx. Smith owes much to his integral position in the Mercury Prize-winning trio, as his membership to it has been nothing but positive, without a doubt opened doors to him in the worlds of production and DJaying. His remix prowess began in earnest when he worked on Florence and the Machine‘s cover of Candi Staton’s ‘You’ve Got the Love’ in 2009, progressing through remixes of his own band, Adele, Radiohead and Four Tet. I can’t even begin to quantify the number of festivals and line-up posters I’ve seen his name listed on, including the Californian desert dance party known as Coachella 2015. Not bad at all, son. Not bad at all.

The electronic-driven contents of ‘In Colour’, now available from Young Turks on both sides of the Atlantic, has been a labour of love and culmination of his professional life over the last 7 years. Clearly, it’s an important record for the 26-year old and one I’m glad he was able to release now, because it’s part of his continuing musical story. And yet, depending on who you talk to or indeed, to which circles you belong, its legacy as Smith’s first solo effort has already been called into question, and for an album that has been alive for less than a week.

The heart of ‘In Colour’, at least how I understand it, is Smith’s “almost obsessive chronicling of in early UK dance music”, its many genres translated into in his own versions to honour what has come before but still make something new and fresh of his very own. Personally, I think it’s pretty neat that someone still relatively young himself yet already very influential to many young music listeners is open and willing to admit how important music of the past has been to him as an developing artist.

Some have asked whether or not this LP is ground-breaking, some going so far as questioning if this collection deserves all the sales and accolades it will get. Others have hit out at Smith, saying that in a similar vein to the extremely popular xx, whose music has backed adverts such as those for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 90210, the album is simply uninspired landfill indie (or, I guess, landfill dance) for the masses and by default, has no artistic merit.

I suppose with the internet at everyone’s fingertips these days, one could argue that we all have the means to research each and every one of Jamie xx’s touchstones on ‘In Colour’, whether it be house, grime, dancehall or whatnot. In terms of what is ground-breaking or not, that’s really up to the listener, isn’t it? If social media during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London taught us anything, it’s that every single music listener on this planet doesn’t have the same background, so one young girl’s perception of ‘Wish You Were Here’ as a new Ed Sheeran song, while incorrect, can be forgiven. Somewhat. In terms of sales and accolades, this is entirely moot, a foregone conclusion, what with Pitchfork alone giving it a near perfect 9.3 (only dwarfed by a few records such as Kanye West’s perfect rating for ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ in 2010 – not touching that).

‘In Colour’ as a whole was the album up for discussion on last night’s edition of Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on 6 Music. The three-man panel had starkly different impressions of ‘SeeSaw’ from the album, which like earlier taster ‘Loud Places’ features the smoky vocals of Jamie’s xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft. Louder Than War journalist John Robb commented of the track ‘SeeSaw’, “it’s just a bit too polished for me, really, it reminds me of flats built in city centres now, you think ‘who lives in those kinds of places?’ It sounds like what they’d listen to in them flats. The one thing I did like was the melancholy, the darkness to it.” Actor Robert Lonsdale’s assessment was middling, initially applauding Smith for “being brave for using lots of instruments and stuff like that, but then putting them through the synthesiser or the same effect or something, it all sounded…a lot of the album sounded quite similar.”

Lamacq’s fellow BBC presenter Tom Robinson provided the most even commentary, having admitted he’d already read reviews of it prior to coming into the studio and sensed the album’s polarising quality to the music community. He noted that in one review, Jamie Smith had been equated to the Sam Smith of dance music. Lammo winced at this suggestion, but Robinson dismissed it, saying, “Sam Smith is extremely good at what he does. It’s exactly right for his target audience, and it’s beautifully done. Perfectly executed, and it sells by the bucketload. This is going to sell by the bucketload.” This led to Lammo asking Robinson if he thought Sam Smith was groundbreaking; Robinson said no, but was quick to point out that Jamie xx has an already established history of breaking boundaries in the past.

Even if Jamie xx wasn’t perceived as a groundbreaking artist in the past, I ask, why should that matter on how ‘In Colour’ does in the shops, or how people view it in 25, 50 years’ time? Leave any preconceived notions or gossip you’ve heard about an artist at the door: the most important thing should be how an album sounds to your virgin ears.

Electronic dance music has long had the bad reputation with non-dance music fans that it’s impossible to feel, understand or “get”, as if you must be part of some misfit, card-carrying group to truly appreciate it for all its analogue vs. digital intricacies. This debut album from Jamie xx has, for better or worse, been put in a good position to do and be a lot of things that other releases in the dance genre could never hope to accomplish. Like all music that is reviewed day after day, it is one thing to have an opinion. We should all have our own opinions and draw our own conclusions on what we like playing in our ears and what we do not. What I find counterproductive are the attacks on this album on the basis that this isn’t good art, it is somehow unworthy of popularity or indeed, it’s unworthy of praise because of this popularity. If the true concern is about what this album’s legacy will be, why don’t we wait that 50 years out and see?

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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