Fifty-five seconds of what might-or-might-not be new material from The xx was all it took to send the internet doolally - such is the lasting impact of the London trio’s two records to date. With their debut, Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sims and Jamie Smith built a fence between swooping indie and sultry RnB, and parked their bums firmly upon it. Its follow-up, 2012’s ‘Coexist’, saw things take an even more ethereal turn, the binary, electronic percussion of ‘xx’ enveloped in their prismic new colour scheme. Now, at long last, news of album three is trickling down from the clouds.
They’ve been hard at work for a while, mind. They supposedly started writing it in April 2013, before jetting off for sessions in Texas, Reykjavik and London over summer 2014. At the end of that year, they then headed off to Los Angeles for further studio time, before falling quiet for a while. The first images of the three of them in the studio emerged back in December of last year, with Oliver sporting a cracking, Draco Malfoy-inspired new mop.
After a performance on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show was scheduled in for later this week, one Reddit sleuth wasted no time unearthing a possible tracklist via Shazam. it’s not the first time the music discovery platform’s let secrets slip, either - as the sleuth himself - days-of-candy - noted, “the titles from the new The Avalanches, Japandroids, Sampha (also signed to Young Turks), etc. records have all appeared there before.”
Of those leaked tracks, ‘Performance’ already exists in shaky, camera phone form online (below). Set loose back in 2014, on a typically short-running US tour, it’s as stripped back as the group get, Romy’s vocal pushed to the fore atop some sparsely strummed guitar. It’s certainly a world away from the clubby euphoria of Jamie xx’s solo album ‘In Colour’. To be perfectly honest, lyrics like ”When you saw me leaving / did you think I had a place to go?” don’t exactly line up with Jamie’s insistence back in our June 2015 Jamie xx cover feature that the new xx material was “a lot more fun”, but did we ever really believe him anyway?
‘Performance’ (live in Memphis, 2014):
Another new track emerged at that same show, mind. Titled ‘System Of Touch’, its name doesn’t match up to anything on that leaked, supposed tracklisting, but these things are all subject to change.
A much more collaborative ditty, it finds Jamie swapping those once signature steel pans out for the more earthy, almost-tribal tapping of wooden blocks. it’s certainly more upbeat than ‘Performance’, a glistening lead line and that chirruping percussive backbone not dissimilar to Jamie’s solo smash (and Romy collaboration) ’Loud Places’.
‘System Of Touch’ (live in Memphis, 2014):
That’s about as concrete as new xx material gets at the moment - a pair of videos with some irritants chatting Extremely Loudly over the whole thing. There’s plenty more to piece together though.
For starters, the closing track on that leaked tracklist, ‘A Violent Noise’, corresponds to an interview Jamie xx gave with Dummy last year, in which he claimed that ‘In Colour”s penultimate track ‘The Rest is Noise’ was nearly nabbed for The xx’s LP3. “Oliver had some lyrics for [‘The Rest Is Noise’] and we’re using the song on the album,” Jamie said, ”but I’ve included a re-worked instrumental version on ‘In Colour’.”
As yet another Reddit user also points out, Romy and Oliver took to an open mic night a couple of years back, performing a track that appears to reference the title of ‘Seasons Run’, which - you guessed it - is on that tracklist. Footage of that’s online, too:
Another report from a 2014 live show, this time on the New Yorker, mentions yet another newbie, with the lyrics, “I used to escape / into my hiding place. Now we’re face to face / and I don’t feel so afraid.” And while we’re talking prose in different area codes, the band have just updated their website to include a whole bunch of new lyrics.
All that being said, taking things right back to those initial teasers - now cruelly wiped from the web - might be the most exciting hint yet at where LP3 could take the trio. With the first one undoubtedly Romy-led, the second boasting Oliver’s unmistakably husky baritone, and the latter sounding lifted from a club that’s just set up shop next door to your bedroom, each has owed its vibe to one of the three pillars of their house of cards set-up.
They’ve never had a problem locking limbs, but given the time they’ve allowed these ideas to gestate, and the space they’ve allowed each other to collaborate and scratch other musical itches, The xx’s third strike looks set to see all three of them playing to their strengths like never before. Could they leapfrog those horizons yet again? It’s an xx-citing prospect.