English indie darlings The xx don’t just rule the minimal indie brand — they practically created it. Credited as pioneers of the restrained, atmospheric indie-tronica genre that now influences the sounds of artists like Lorde, Rhye and even The Weeknd, The xx have won wide acclaim for their three-album catalogue, most recently with January’s I See You.
Given their electrifying chemistry in the studio, it’s not surprising that the band members have a close bond outside of music. The group consists of childhood friends Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft, along with producer Jamie Smith (better known as solo artist Jamie xx), all of whom attended high school together in London. And while the band’s sound has evolved since releasing their self-titled debut album in 2009 — trying on a more upbeat, full-sounding style for this year’s I See You — the trio have never lost sight of their captivating cool and signature mellow vibe.
Join Billboard Dance below as we run down The xx’s 15 best tracks, from the vocal-less track that put them on the map to their contribution to The Great Gatsby film.
15. The xx – “Stars”
The xx have a certain penchant for bringing elements of nature into their lyrics (check out numbers 10, 4 and 2 on this list if you don’t believe us). “Stars” is one example, infusing a fresh, dreamy sound into the often-used metaphor of seeing “stars” as falling in love.
14. The xx – “Reunion”
Steel drum sounds add a tropical feel to this song off The xx’s Coexist, which features a meandering melody that drifts in and out of focus. Sim and Croft’s vocals are as chilling as ever, their whispery sighs acting almost as instruments themselves.
13. The xx – “I Dare You”
With I See You, The xx unveiled a sunnier, more upbeat sound than their previous albums. That includes the breezy single “I Dare You,” which ruminates on rapture with a jogging guitar line, atmospheric drums and the charming pre-chorus, “I’ve been a romantic for so long/ all I’ve ever heard are love songs.” We recommend you also check out the music video (above), a collaboration with Raf Simons starring Paris Jackson, Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown and Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders.
12. The xx – “Chained”
The xx’s songs are known for drawing out emotion, and “Chained” — a heartbreaking melody about distanced lovers — is another release bound to pull on your heartstrings. As Croft and Sim duet, their verses circle and tip-toe around each other while rarely joining, a touch that accents the theme of distance in their tormented lyrics — “Did I hold you too tight?/ Did I not let enough light in?”
11. The xx – “Basic Space”
In terms of production, “Basic Space” is one of the more upbeat tracks off the group’ss self-titled debut album. But the real star of the song is its thoughtful lyrics, which tackle intimacy in a relationship — both physical and mental. “I think I’m losing where you end and I begin,” Croft breathes, backed by rickety percussion and an airy, crisp guitar line.
10. The xx – “Sunset”
The vibe of “Sunset” shifts several times over the track’s nearly four minutes, transitioning seamlessly between moody, echoing soundscapes and a refreshingly bright guitar melody that kicks in around 2:10. Throughout, Sim and Croft pay tribute to a relationship on its last legs with heart-crushers like, “It felt like you really knew me/ Now it feels like you see through me.”
9. The xx – “Fiction”
Sim serves as the sole vocalist on this Coexist cut, which explores the surreal feelings that often come with loss. A characteristically echo-y guitar melody backs Sim’s crooning on the song, along with a tumble of piano keys and glitchy production.
8. The xx – “VCR”
The xx offer a warm and fuzzy dose of nostalgia on “VCR,” another of the more uplifting tracks in their catalogue. There’s something inexplicably comforting about the way Croft and Sim sing “we are the best thing” in unison, or the reassuring closing line, “You just know, you just do.”
7. The xx – “Together”
The xx contributed this brooding, sultry track to the JAY-Z-curated soundtrack tp Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. But Hollywood starpower aside, “Together” has quickly become a fan favorite for xx listeners, thanks to its infectiously dark beat and smoky vocals.
6. The xx – “Heart Skipped A Beat”
It’s hard to resist clapping your hands along with this melodic song off the group’s debut album, which features an electrifying guitar line, ample clap sounds and the sighing hook, “Sometimes, I still need you.” Yep — despite its blissful, feathery sound, “Heart Skipped a Beat” is actually more of break-up song, with a will-they-won’t-they drama at its center.
5. The xx – “On Hold”
Out of all their hits, “On Hold” may be The xx’s most danceable yet. The vocal chemistry between Croft and Sim is unmatched as they sing out their yearnings, and Jamie xx provides snappy, chopped-up production that seems to draw from his acclaimed solo album, In Colour.
4. The xx – “Islands”
Throughout “Islands,” a standout track off The xx’s debut, the beat is constantly reshuffling, cutting between wandering guitar strums and what sounds like gusts of wind from a fan. The result of the song is a quiet masterpiece that, eight years later, hasn’t lost any of it’s shine — and we don’t think it ever really will.
3. The xx – “Angels”
This stark xx song exemplifies the group’s affinity for minimalism — and how even the most restrained sound can say so much. Backed by sprawling picks at the guitar and muted cymbal clashes, Croft purrs soft-spoken lines about being “as in love with you as I am.”
2. The xx – “Crystalised”
Croft and Sim’s husky vocals weave in and around each other on this invigorating xx song, displaying some of the group’s most catchy lyricism yet. As we mentioned, The xx are known for bringing nature themes into their music, and here, the process of crystallisation provides a genius metaphor for devotion to a relationship.
1. The xx – “Intro”
It might seem strange to choose a wordless two-minute instrumental as our number one xx song. But “Intro” is a triumph — and one that perfectly encapsulates what makes The xx’s sound so captivating. Earworm of a guitar hook? Check. Atmospheric, minimal sound that’s easy to get lost in? Check. Possible to set on repeat without it ever growing old? That’s a check from us — and the thousands of YouTubers who have listened to seamless loops of the track that run up to 10 hours. It’s no wonder Rihanna chose “Intro” as the major sample for her “Drunk on Love.” This one is straight gold — Billboard even wrote a whole article about its greatness.