The xx have taken their time releasing the follow up to 2012’s Coexist. There have been rumors (and even this extensive New Yorker write-up from 2014 on the making of the album), but nothing has materialized and fans have been scrambling for clues as far as what the album might sound like. Jamie XX’s solo album was a full embrace of dance culture, but it’s unclear whether this more signals a broader move for a band in this direction. This playlist, a compilation of the music they’ve been listening to in the studio, and released alongside news of a larger world tour, is probably our best signal to date.
Some of their picks are not surprising. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” negotiates brittle classic pop melodies with the hedonistic grime and baggage of Velvet Underground, a juxtaposition that The xx have mined in their own work. With its tear-drops keys, and its overlapping male/female vocal harmonies, Drake collaboration with PartyNextDoor, “With You,” sounds like a reworked track from The xx’s debut. And, yes, like all of us in 2016, The xx are going to be listening to Sampha, Frank Ocean, and Solange. But there are some surprises here.
The inclusion of Ace’s glam-tinted pub-rock classic “How Long” is a bit startling at first, but the bright hook and easy groove mirrors the more sanguine moments from the last xx album, and the inclusion of No Wave pioneers Liquid Liquid and proto-punkers Suicide show that they’ve been immersed in the modern experimental lands of modern music. But even if the new album ends up sounding nothing like any of this, they’ve certainly given us an enjoyable playlist. Nina Simone’s “Baltimore” is a late-period jewel that matches her singular vocal phrasing with a reggae-tinged interpretation of a great Randy Newman song, and “A Forest” remains one of the Cure’s strongest track. — Sam Chennault