By Joseph Costello
The xx have returned from a 5-year silence with their new offering ‘I See You’, clearly citing the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. And while they haven’t exactly ripped-up The xx rule book of minimalism, call and response melodies and the ‘loves me, loves me not’ lyrical content; it does still manage to feel fresh at times.
But how is best to enjoy the album? Is it likely to soundtrack the Pimms and lemonade of Wimbledon 2017? Or should you keep it ready in the back with the bottle of Pernod black for when darkness descends? Here is my guide.
Dangerous – Don’t let the fact that the brass sounds like David Brent’s ‘Equality Street’ put you off. The track bounces along well enough. It has the kind of melody that I imagine people in their early-20s will insist on mouthing along to at parties. You know who you are. And that’s fine.
I envisage this best enjoyed with value scotch. Anything from Famous Grouse downwards. Most effectively at a social situation you’d rather not attend.
Say Something Loving has remix written all over it. Someone out there will take the masters and turn it into something it is not. And that is not fine. Because this is a beautiful piece of music, one which delves into content not expressed enough in The xx’s music.
This is an end of the night peace-track. So, make sure you have control of the music when it gets on top. Likely, the booze will have run dry. Be vigilant and stash 2 of those Red Stripes behind a sofa (any obtuse upholstery will do). And you’ll be good for another 45 minutes or so.
Lips is a nice use of the synth; sounds enough like steel drums to excite me (I’m a fan of the novel instrument). While I don’t expect this to be the sound of the summer, it’s got something to it.
Expect to enjoy this in an unlicensed-bar after hours. With gin. Maybe tonic, maybe not. That’s your call. Beware, the people will be landed-gentry. And there will be daddy-issues. I repeat, daddy-issues. So, drink aware.
A Violent Noise – Never ones to pass the opportunity to include an ethereal synth-line, ‘A Violent Noise’ is classic-xx. Lyrics are characteristically wobbly. But this will be a tune worth waiting for at Glastonbury.
Best served with warm beer at 8pm at festivals across western and eastern Europe. Slow enough that you can expect to hold on to that beer, too. Result.
Performance is, vocally, The xx at their most Portishead. Look out for the bassline, it’s unassumingly cool. And great use of harmonics.
This one is the tune you put on as you climb into bed. It will be too loud and coupled with your anxiety, it will be a tough few hours. But a fulfilling one.
Replica has all the hallmarks of a feel-good hit of the summer. And then you remember it’s The xx. But as far as The xx go, it’s upbeat. The background music is something which embeds your memory for years. This I like.
Take this on a field in summer, with speakers. And friends. Preferably bi-lingual ones. It won’t work with just English speaking people. They can’t make sangria properly. You’ll need sangria.
Brave For You’s use of the organ synth is nice but the xx’s relentless dreariness becomes grating come this track. The lyrics/vocals aren’t strong enough to carry this one.
Have this with a whiskey. Nothing too expensive, don’t waste the blue-label. I’d recommend a Johnny Walker red-label. Nice enough but also quite forgettable. The most apt aperitif for this number, I’m afraid.
On Hold – This is a step in the right direction for the album. Very much the antidote to ‘Brave For You’. It’s got a mouth-along quality akin to Dangerous. And the coda with the 90s-esque quasi-rap really helps the song get from A to B. I would listen to this again.
Take this with Chianti and faux-intellectual conversation. You’ll need ‘liberal’ friends to make this one work. Also, an un-researched view of the landscape of French politics.
I Dare You – You know, sometimes it’s just nice to have a pulsing bass drum – bass line in a song. Call me old-fashioned. This has something to it that is lacking through the entirety of the album. And arguably their whole career. Gumption. Oomph. This won’t be getting them that elusive U2 support slot (God knows they crave it) but it’ll get Brixton academy going. Which is something.
This needs tequila. With friends. Genuine friends. Old friends. It’s a banger. Only enjoy bangers, with tequila and old friends.
Test Me’s piano led, xx-ness at its best/worst depending on your perspective. Slow, emotional, and not particularly memorable. The xx triumphant.
Pernod black is the only drink worthy of this ocean of noise. The inevitable cry you have will be either because of the Pernod or because of the music. Either way; have tissues available.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to characterise the album as either good, bad, or indifferent. It’s weighed so heavily on your perspective. It will appeal to ardent fans and will concrete the beliefs of those who find them unlistenable. And for that much, you have to give The xx credit.