I’ve been eagerly following Jamie xx’s career since 2010 when I first heard xx and watched a live video of the band performing “Crystalized” (their best song, by the way) with him dextrously tapping away at his boards. Watching the xx live on a drizzling beach confirmed what I already knew: he was the most talented member of a talentless group who had one good album in them (Coexist is the definition of sophomore slump), with the gaps between his other two teammates and him (both appearing here) heightened with Baria Qureshi (the guitarist who probably thought up the riff to “Crystalized”)’s departure. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim suffer either asthma or the after-effects of cigarette smoke; hearing Oliver Sim trying to handle the hook to “Stranger in the Room” is pathetic because of its awkward phrasing, not helped by his owl imitations.
This album is a let-down. The obvious questions: why is “Girl” – the most mediocre a-side of his solo career; nothing but a fun horn hook – here at all? And if “Girl” is here, why not “All Under One Roof Raving,” with its fragmented but ultimately unifying voices heard over the din of steel drum melodies and sweaty underground club propulsion? And if Azealia Banks can get away with including her best song on her debut album years later, why wouldn’t Jamie xx do the same, and throw “Far Nearer” in here? (I wouldn’t have judged him for using his resources to make a better album…would you have?) And the most obvious question: why is a single edit of “Sleep Sound” – his most gorgeous song and one of the best from yesteryear – appearing on an album, which drops its majestic intro of dancing inside while it rains and removes the original’s sensual climaxes for something that’s neither sensual nor climactic?
So yes, remediation time: let’s cut the aforementioned “Stranger in a Room” (to all the reviews who think it’s a good xx track, I’d ask them to recall that the best xx songs made use of both vocalists to cover each others’ weaknesses); let’s replace “Sleep Sound” with the better version; let’s remove the useless interlude “Just Saying”; let’s replace “Girl” with “Far Nearer”; let’s replace “Hold Tight” (which follows the same formula as “Gosh,” but isn’t nearly as interesting) with “All Under One Roof Raving.” There – we now have an A- album, and one that’s more worthy of over-the-top scores.
Elsewhere, the two Romy Madley Croft-handled songs are fine: “Loud Places” for the sampled choruses, and for Jamie xx’s drum programming during the second verse which sounds like he’s tapping spoons on wine glasses, and Madley Croft’s final lines – “You’re in ecstasy without me / When you come down, I won’t be around” is powerful. “SeeSaw,” on the other hand, with the drum programming, beautiful guitar tones (the combination of these two reminds me of Four Tet’s “Locked,” which makes sense since Four Tet co-produces the track) and Croft’s whispers sung like samples (or maybe they are samples of her) suggest the color of the album cover.
“Obvs” sounds like a decent and shorter Philip Glass song (it reminded me of Glassworks’ “Rubric”). Resident Advisor’s Andrew Ryce describes it as “border[ing] on self-parody” and I see where he’s coming from, but like “Rubric,” get past the arpeggios and listen to the second melody introduced underneath them, specifically starting at the 2:16-onwards. I can see people going either way for “I Know There’s Going to Be (Good Times),” but the choruses and Young Thug going “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller!” are the album’s second and third most ecstatic moments, respectively. The best moment is when “Gosh” – the album’s best song – morphs halfway through, with a synth–line joining in with the shuffle-crunch of the percussion and punctuating vocal sample, juxtaposing well with the deep throbs of bass.