The xx is a trio of Londoners whose eponymous first album, released in 2009, has defined the way pop music sounds today. I remember knowing, when it came out, that I was listening to something both distinctive and familiar, which is usually an indicator of success. The schtick was to plunder various music canons which they were way too young to have heard first hand — Nineties house and rave, lachrymose mainstream Eighties synth-pop, angst-ridden shoegazing — strip it down and mix it all up with very clever beats, provided by the genuine talent of Jamie Smith. ‘Radically pleasant’ is what I thought at the time, a little sniffily, and also somewhat precious. But you could tell that they were on their way and a Mercury Music Prize soon followed, en route to world domination. They are a very big deal now.
I See You is their third album and the template has not altered, has scarcely been tweaked. So we have the sinuous, clever melodies — which occasionally call to mind Prefab Sprout — the softly chiming guitar and the lush and often, frankly, annoying and overwrought swooping vocals from Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. And behind it all Smith doing his stuff, elevating what might be the commonplace to something a little better. Electro-pop, r&b, shimmering ballads with grisly, introspective
lyrics. The stand-out tracks — the trip-hoppy ‘Lips’ and the straightforward pop of ‘On Hold’. The sound of very earnest millennials making music. Ah well, it could be worse.