LISTEN: Jamie XX shares remix of “On Hold”

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

The XX have been on a roll this year, dropping their third album I See You to critical acclaim as well as following it up with an extensive tour. Most of this positive feedback came from the greater role Jamie XX’s production was allowed to play, his trademark expertise in sampling shining through. Releasing a remix of the LP’s first single On Hold on Annie Mac’s show earlier today, Jamie showed he hasn’t lost his knack.

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The XX – I See You ALBUM REVIEW

Incorporating all the talents each member brings to the table with new innovations to their well established bittersweet formula, The XX return from their hiatus sounding just as refreshing as they did back in 2009.

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Soft spoken and introverted, the international success of The XX back in 2009 was somewhat an anomaly due to how much they differed from similar UK acts who managed to make it across the pond with braggadocious attitudes and face melting riffs. Comprised of Oliver Sim, Romy Croft and Jamie ‘XX’ Smith, the indie rock outfit seemingly came out of nowhere with their bittersweet soft melodies to win the Mercury Prize Award with their eponymously titled debut and become one of the most talked about acts of the late noughties. Most of this no doubt came from how the band managed to accumulate their hype, refusing to appear on their covers despite the fact that Sim is male model handsome. In an interview back in 2010 with The Guardian, Croft proclaimed that “We’re very keen not to be…flash” and the band has not went back on that promise, still adorning black clothing that many would describe as suburban goth.

Having influenced various other UK acts who have tried to replicate the act’s sound, most of the time very poorly (here’s looking at you London Grammar), it would have been so easy for The XX to stumble into the pitfall of maintaining the status quo much like they did with their atmospheric yet somewhat repetitive sophomore record Co-Exist. Thankfully, though, the London band have managed to shake up their well-established sound on third LP I See You which, in Jamie’s own words, makes the record their most expansive and outward looking to date.

From the first single off of I See You ‘On Hold‘, it’s painstakingly clear that The XX have all brought their own merits to the table and tried to innovate on them further with the biggest plus to the formula no doubt being the spotlight shone on Jamie XX far more than the act’s previous efforts, in no small part due to his stellar debut record In Colour. The sublime sampling of Hall & Oates is utterly captivating and displays Smith’s, as well as Rodaidh McDonald’s, wonderful production capabilities, giving the song a funky rhythm which makes it one of The XX’s most lively tracks to date, something of an oddity in the act’s discography but a welcome change nonetheless. On Hold not only displays the evolution in sound but a further refining of the lyrical content provided by Sim and Croft with the topic of ambiguity tying it beautifully to the sampling, resulting in one of the most cohesive pieces of music to come out of 2017. 

This is, of course, totally overlooking opening track ‘Dangerous’ which makes it immediately evident that while the themes of lost love, relationship woes etc. are all still very much apparent, the way in which they’re delivered, at least sonically anyway, are extremely different to what The XX have done before. Beginning with some isolated saxophones and trumpets followed up by a lone, soothing and alluring bassline, Smith brings it all together into one bubbling cauldron that never feels like it’s trying to do too much at once but never feels as minimal or stripped back as their debut was.

Something that’s worth discussing is the vocals, provided by Sim and Croft, that are as pleasant as always but seem to stick out more considering the step forward in terms of production and sound. While they never sound abysmal or even sub par, only one track, that being Performance, manages to display that three records either vocalist is attempting to anything different with their voices. As mentioned, though, both Sim and Croft manage to do their jobs well and even show glimmers of chemistry on tracks like Say Something Loving which features some added production by Croft, showing that she provides more than just a good set of pipes. 

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While there are many changes that are apparent on I See You, what’s utterly remarkable and something that should be commended is the fact that The XX are simultaneously pushing themselves out of their comfort zone while staying true to their humble roots. The sampling on display and subsequent alterations to the sound make it feel like an R&B album more than an alt rock one but the emotional voices that manage to project both passion and insecurities feel so quintessentially XX. There are tracks that feel like they could have been ripped straight off of their debut like ‘Performance’ while others like ‘Dangerous’ and ‘On Hold’ feel like they’ve landed from a parallel universe where the band are far less timid.

I See You shows reminiscing, acceptance and strength, feeling like the most solid chapter in The XX arc but leaving room for the inevitable follow-up to build upon the now strengthened foundations.

8/10


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So far, so good? The XX’s latest tracks REVIEWED

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

Having been absent for the best part of half a decade, the return of indie darlings The XX is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated events in the musical realm this year. Their third LP I See You is set to see the band channel a more distinctive sound and a more positive, open and “expansive” concept than their previous two albums. These words are sure to be reassuring for those that thought their sophomore record Coexist did little to build upon what the band had crafted on their self-titled debut. With two tracks being released in the build up to I See You’s release on January 13th, it’s time to review them and see if the London act has put their money where their mouth is.

On Hold

Released late in 2016, On Hold sees The XX show member Jamie XX show off his sampling moves that he exercised perfectly on his debut In Colour while fusing this with light shoegaze elements that the band has dipped their feet into previously. The use of Hall and Oates’ I Can’t Go For That, albeit a sped up and warped edit, gives the song a much-needed burst of energy that many critics of the indie rock outfit have slated them for lacking. On top of that, the song from the duo’s 10th record is a good match due to it sharing the theme of mixed signals that, while being a retread lyrics wise for The XX, makes it feel like a well-thought inclusion rather than just a simple appeal to critics. While the vocals of Romy and Oliver may have not underwent much evolution over the five years since we last heard them on an XX project, both performances do the job and are as alluring as ever.

Say Something Loving 

Incorporating a rather obscure line from Alessi Brother’s self-titled 70’s debut, Say Something Loving is possibly the most uplifting track The XX have ever delivered which is quite a change considering the band are well known for their somber, sometimes depressing sounding music. Full of shimmering pop goodness, the vocals here are more impressive with the clashing of Romy and Oliver being much better suited than anticipated with Romy sometimes touching on some unmarked territory for herself. The love adorned lyrics help The XX to claim that level of intimacy that has made them such a delight to listen to and with their current direction to further shake up their formula whilst still not stripping away this critical element, they may very well be on their way to deliver their magnum opus.


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Top 25 Albums Of 2015

It’s time.

List season. It’s odd how something with such a boring name could cause heated debate amongst many, though that’s nothing new for the internet. So as I’ve always done since 2013, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite albums of the past 12 months, ranging from heavy rock to pop to grime to rap, there’ll no doubt be something here for you. Disagree with me? Well you could always contribute to my Best of 2015 post which is coming next Thursday, just message me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll be sorted!

I hope you enjoy this list which took far too much time to make than I’m proud to admit. So put the pitchforks down for now and let’s dive in.

25. At. Long. Last. ASAP – A$AP Rocky

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Following up his 2013 debut Long Live ASAP, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky gets even more experimental on this sophomore album. While there’s significantly less chart gems present than his last outing, the same charm and production value can be felt on every track.

 

24. Purpose – Justin Bieber

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Time for all those awfully spelt insults and memes we made about biebs to disappear. He is back and with a totally transformed sound as those who once slated him are now praising him as tracks like Sorry are pop perfection. While his vocals might be a bit lackluster and too safe, the influence Kanye, Skrillex and co. have had on the lad has paid off.

23. Back On Top – The Front Bottoms

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While Talon Of The Hawk felt like a AAA version of The Front Bottoms’ self loathing lyric fueled sound, Back On Top feels like the beginning of a new chapter for the band. Historic Cemetery just screams Weezer and other tracks like Cough It Out are as catchy as a cold (albeit more enjoyable). A near flawless amalgamation of emo & pop-punk.

22. Every Open Eye – CHVRCHES 

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There’s no denying that CHVRCHES are one of the best new bands to come out in quite a while, breathing new life into the synth pop genre and yet again reiterating how vibrant the Glasgow music scene is. Every Open Eye is like the Empire Strikes Back for the band: more gritty, more epic but faithful to what made the band what they are.

21. For All My Sisters – The Cribs

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West Yorkshire band The Cribs might have hit out with their best album yet, full of the indie punk greatness that put them on the radar in the first place. See Pink Snow for a chaotic crescendo closer that results in another classic album for the band’s discography.

 

20. Currents – Tame Impala

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Despite constantly being compared to the likes of Radiohead for their album rock genius, Tame Impala somehow manage to merge frontman Kevin Parker’s uncontrollable love of pop and their trademark psychedelic sound to craft something truly special. A breakup album disguised as a feel good, funky gem, Currents is only as good as the sum of its parts and those parts are undeniably brilliant.

19. Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett

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Courtney Barnett has proved time and time again why she deserves to be put on a pedestal, despite what she might say on Pedestrian At Best. Sometimes I Sit.. has an unprecedented charm to it and is insanely listenable. Absolutely exceptional.

 

 

18. Art Angels – Grimes

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As abnormally appealing as they come, Grimes returns with a record which is far more pop orientated than anything she’s ever made before yet it still retains all her trademark characteristics. California is a radio friendly hit that never verges into sell-out territory. She may have scrapped an entire album before this but when the replacement sounds this good, we’re not losing any sleep.

17. Cherry Bomb – Tyler The Creator

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While the ever controversial Tyler may have had a bad 2015 (OFWGKTA is no more, fall out with best pal Earl Sweatshirt, banned from UK), he can end the year knowing his latest album is arguably his best yet. A Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, Cherry Bomb fuses Tyler’s influencers (N.E.R.D, Stevie Wonder) and his own own dubious rap style to make a distorted masterpiece.

16. Another One – Mac DeMarco

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It really is testament to how talented Mac DeMarco is that a mini album manages to stand above full LPs. In his own words, Another One is about “different kinds of facets of being in love, being out of love, wanting love, not wanting love”. This concept never grows tiresome over the record’s eight track length and further refines his already sublime laid back sound.

15. Happy People – Peace 

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Peace know what they are: floppy haired indie royalty, just like Arctic Monkeys before them. They’re not ashamed of this in the slightest though as they embrace this wholeheartedly. Happy People has exactly what you’d expect from the guys who brought you bloodshake as well as some even heavier tracks like I’m A Girl, showing the band are still as capable as ever to fire out some more indie-rock gems.

14. What Went Down – Foals

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It’s hard to recall an album this year that has managed to balance balls to the wall heavy rock and cordial little tracks all on the one LP. Foals have proven yet again that it’s not in their DNA to make a bad album.

 

13. Are You Satisfied – Slaves

81rIWd69XNL._SL1417_The debut album is often a record which most bands would play it safe on to be more approachable by the public. This isn’t the case for Kent punk duo Slaves who showcase their silliness on Feed The Mantaray while also trying to get their message across of “doing something with your lives” to listeners. Regardless if they succeed in doing so, the boys manage to stand out from every two piece band around at the moment, no small feat at all.

12. The Mindsweep – Enter Shikari

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2015 was undoubtedly one of the most important years for UK politics and no band knows and represents this better than Enter Shikari. From the feedback heavy track Anaesthetist dealing with the privatisation of the NHS to the unsubtly commentary on the corruption of bankers on Bank Of England, the band make their voice well and truly heard and it’s never sounded so good.

11. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late – Drake

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For a man who is worth millions, if not billions, Drake’s latest album is surprisingly minimalistic in comparison to other rapper’s records. However, this surprise release benefits from this, managing to hit out with the anthems you’d expect from Drizzy while managing to be retrospective. A man that can’t be stopped.

 

10. Too – FIDLAR

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Los Angeles band FIDLAR love drugs (despite just getting out of rehab), drinking and self loathing. They lay all their cards out on the table so that they and the listeners can get down to business and have a good time. Wouldn’t you know it, they do exactly that. Heavily inspired by the 90’s teen angst bands like blink-182, Too is a 42 minute record that is all about having fun and provides just that. Simple yet amazing.

9. My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice

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Is it any surprise that Wolf Alice are the biggest new act of 2015? The band have built up a hype hurricane since their very first EP which hasn’t been helped by the likes of NME naming them a “band that will change your life” and being nominated for multiple awards. Thankfully this hasn’t derailed the band who deliver a record bursting with heart and grunge-lite sound. One of the greatest debuts of the past decade.

8. Life’s Not Out To Get You – Neck Deep

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Pop punk has had its own sort of renaissance this year with Knuckle Puck mixing the emo sound of American Football with the appeal a genre like this brings. Neck Deep have filled the converse of blink-182 with an album that is full of the same polish and emotion as Enema Of The State. A band that are worth keeping your eye on.

7. Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner

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You’ll struggle to find a solo artist with the same raw passion as Frank Turner. After constructing a record about heartbreak that was enough to make the toughest person feel second hand remorse, PSFNP does exactly what it says on the tin. Any self professed cynic will find themselves drawn in by the snarling guitars and folk rock genius of certain tracks, showing that Frank is arguably the most talented Turner in the business.

6. The Powers That B – Death Grips

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Sacramento experimental hip hop band Death Grips are…weird to say the least. This statement proves to be the most true when listening to Jenny Death, the second half of TPTB, which came out of fucking nowhere in traditional Death Grips fashion. It serves as a reminder to why many fell in love with the band: pure uncut anarchy with the staple MC Ride delivery. Although it isn’t as tremendous as The Money Store, it’s the perfect combination of rap and rock, especially on tracks like On GP.

5. Integrity > – JME

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Just like pop punk, Grime witnessed a second wind this year, solidified by artists like Skepta breaking into the charts and a flamethrower extravaganza at the Brits when many artists from the genre joined Kanye on stage. While it may not have topped charts, JME’s latest record is the best record in the genre since Boy In Da Corner. Independently released, JME preaches about keyboard warriors, veganism and his disinterest in others opinions. Over the 16 tracks and countless video game references, it’s painfully clear that JME is loving what he’s doing, not having to answer to a boss and in the process he’s stumbled upon one of the most refreshing albums of the year.

4. Get To Heaven – Everything Everything

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Bare with me here. Yes, if you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever enjoy an Everything Everything album I would probably have laughed you off. However, the Manchester act aren’t regarded as genre defying for nothing and their latest release is proof of that. Full to the brim with infectious pop and insanely danceable tracks, Get To Heaven is unlike anything to come out this year. It has political commentary so well hidden by its 60’s beats and weirdly catchy alarm clock samples that even if they were stripped away, the album as a whole would still stand on its own. Imaginative and unique, Get To Heaven can be three genres at once but still be described with one word: exhilarating.

3. That’s The Spirit – Bring Me The Horizon

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After a brutal history with the drug Ketamine, Oli Sykes says he came out of Rehab feeling like he didn’t want to scream anymore, he wanted to “sing from the fucking rooftops”. Just as Sykes overcame his addiction, so to have Bring Me The Horizon overcame the troubles that most bands face when changing their sound. Although hardcore fans who have been there since their metalcore days may be disappointed about the transition, there is no denying the layered and evolved synths and atmosphere that come in hand with them are on an such a level of quality that it’s hard to think of a band that does it as well as them. Without a doubt, the best rock album of 2015.

2. In Colour – Jamie XX

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It’s hard to fault Jamie Smith when it comes to his skills as a producer. Many felt like working with The XX was limiting his range, musically, and whilst members of the band make appearances throughout, In Colour not only stands on its own two legs, it stands out as an absolute juggernaut of a record. The brilliant thing about In Colour is how difficult it is to pigeon hole. It’s been described by some reviewers as a rave album and some tracks like the aforementioned Gosh could imply that it is such an album. However each track can be interpreted in so many and the term “electronic” is so vague that it’s almost insulting. Whether you think it’s a rave album, a techno one or even a semi reggae one for some reason, you’re both right and wrong. One thing is for sure though and that’s that you’ll definitely be in the latter if you decide to give this album a skip.

 

And the best album of the year is…

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

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What else was it going to be? Let’s all confess for a minute: we were all worried. How on earth could Kendrick Lamar top the move-esque masterpiece that was Good Kid m.A.A.d city? We were anxious as fuck but once To Pimp A Butterfly dropped out of nowhere, all those worries were laid to rest.

Criticise me if you wish but Lamar is the new king of rap as his scope reaches a ginormous scale you’d expect from a firearm. Showing the rage of Kanye (Blacker The Berry), romantic nature of Drake (Complexion) and the unpredictableness that only Lamar himself can provide, TPAB could have been a lame, safe follow up. Instead it tackles integrated racism in America, staying true to yourself by turning down stardom and…talking to Tupac. Seriously though, Kendrick is a man who knows where he stands in the music world. He knows he’s one of the biggest artists in the world and he uses this position for good, asking for gangs to reconcile, calling out rappers for being shams and telling the listener to love themselves.

There’s not much I can say about To Pimp A Butterfly that hasn’t been said already but what I can say is this: it’s not only the best album of 2015, it’s arguably the best album to come out this century.

Big love, Liam x

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Jamie XX – In Colour review

The XX are without a doubt one of the most divisive bands to come out in the last 5 years. Ever since they came onto the scene in 2010 with their eponymous titled debut album  and managed to beat big name artists like Biffy Clyro and Foals for the prestigious Mercury Prize award, they’ve managed to split opinions right down the centre. Some call their music simple yet creative whilst others cast it off as nothing but coffee shop music but there’s something that both sides can agree on and that’s Jamie XX.

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The 26 year old, whose real name is Jamie Smith, is hard to fault when it comes to his skills as a producer and remix artist. To many it seemed like his work with his main band The XX was limiting his range since, as lovely as the stripped back sound of both their debut album and follow up Coexist was, 2011 remix album We’re New Here showed how much potential the London born lad had. With an expert blend of various styles, even managing to pull of the Marmite sound of Dubstep, the sheer range of XX’s abilities were fascinating to anyone wise enough to give the album a listen to when it came out.

Now with 2 albums with his main band under his belt alongside his remix album, Jamie XX should surely feel ready to face the challenges that this hype he has accumulated over the past few years will have set up for him. Although there had been singles released and sprinkled about the place in the months preceding In Colour’s release this week, I managed to wait and experience this album just yesterday. Any worries anyone had can be  confidently laid to rest.

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Icelandic musician Bjork once said that if there’s no soul in electronic music that it’s because nobody put it there and this is something that Jamie XX had liked the sound of in an interview with factmag but in his full length solo debut album he’s managed to defy such a statement. As soon as Gosh, the opening track to In Colour, starts up, you can tell you’ve just stuck on something that’s about to change your opinion on electronic music. Although he has over 5 years experience in this industry, XX approaches this single with the enthusiasm of someone who’s just picked up their very first synthesiser. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh/ Easy, easy/ All it down, all it down are hardly mind blowing lyrics but that’s not XX’s aim: his music has always been simple but at the same time music that you could listen to over and over again and pick out something new in the track that you love. The lyrics themselves are pulled from an unaired episode of the BBC 1 DJ Program One In The Jungle which is very fitting for the track and sets the bar for the quality of the music to come on the rest of the LP.

The sampling on this record has to be praised as it’s very difficult to take a piece of music and warp and use it in such a way that it pleases not only first time listeners but those who have memories with the sample in question. Sleep Sound, which starts off with a ring that’ll probably make you jump up to check the phone, samples Four Freshmen’s It’s A Blue World, a track that is mesmerising by itself with its beautiful harmony. Jamie acknowledges this and knows what he’s working with, delicately editing the piece and letting it float about in ambience and airy synth sounds.

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Although the sound is the star on this album, it would be a crime not to give some credit to the wonderful vocal performances. SeeSaw has Jamie reunited with fellow bandmate Romy, her soft spoken and beautiful voice clicking in to place with the equally as gentle sound provided on the track. The sound is almost up in the air which is also fitting seeing as the subject of the song is heartbreak, a topic that Jamie’s band have not been afraid to touch upon in the past. The uncertainty of the person in the song’s future as she watches a past loved one experience happiness is something that the listener can relate to, whether it be something happening to them personally or if they themselves feel uncertain about what Jamie will throw at them next. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) is probably this track to the latter. Featuring rapper Young Thug and PopCaan, the reggae reminiscent track is a change of pace from the rest of the album yet doesn’t seem to out of place. In Colour traverses through different genres and sounds but although the thought of these three artist collaborating sounds awful initially, the result is the two rappers providing the required energy while still keeping themselves grounded.

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2015 has been a great year for certain genres, especially Hip-Hop with the likes of Kendrick, Drake and Death Grips helping to revitalise a genre many thought was going to grow stale. The brilliant thing about In Colour is how difficult it is to pigeon hole. It’s been described by some reviewers as a rave album and some tracks like the aforementioned Gosh could imply that it is such an album. However each track can be interpreted in so many and the term “electronic” is so vague that it’s almost insulting. Whether you think it’s a rave album, a techno one or even a semi reggae one for some reason, you’re both right and wrong. One thing is for sure though and that’s that you’ll definitely be in the latter if you decide to give this album a skip.

If you’re part of a band or are an individual artist then don’t hesistate to contact me below so I can check out your music etc. ☺
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