“Envious” is the word that The xx bassist Oliver Sim, huddled next to bandmates Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith in a hotel room at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt, uses to describe how he felt watching Smith perform as a solo artist.
In 2015, while the London trio was effectively prolonging its hiatus following its 2012 album Coexist, Smith (who performs as Jamie xx) released a dance album, In Colour, that was critically beloved and yielded an international tour.
Compared to The xx’s delicate, heart-rending pop, the squelching bangers of In Colour were fresh and exciting; the band, in turn, began to feel like a relic from the indie-rock boom of the 2000s. Sim, leaning forward on a large sofa while Smith lounges back beside him, says he used to find playing shows “painful”; watching Smith mesmerize crowds, however, lit a fire under him.
“As proud as I felt,” he says, “I was definitely like, ‘I want to be doing this. I want to be up there, with the three of us.’” And so The xx evolved instead of died, and created its third album, I See You (Young Turks, Jan. 13), a demonstrably more upbeat project recorded more than 5,000 miles from the members’ usual habitat. The group’s two albums have sold a combined 967,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen Music, and its signature sound, full of negative space and sexual tension, was novel at the time of the group’s Mercury Prize-winning 2009 debut xx — everyone from The Weeknd to Lorde to FKA Twigs has since co-opted it.