The band plays a sold-out show at the WaMu Theater on Monday, April 24.
The meek may inherit the Earth, but something like the opposite is true in pop music. Success is built on personality, on connection, on having songs that will make thousands of people in an amphitheater or basketball arena lose their cool and sing along.
The xx, then, who plays the WaMu Theater on Monday, April 24, is an anomaly.
The British band’s music is hushed and sparse, much of it lacking drums for long passages. It makes more sense for late-night listening through headphones than it does at festivals or in stadiums. In the band’s early days, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, the group’s two vocalists, were too self-conscious to even work on lyrics together in the same room.
With Sampha. 8 p.m. Monday, April 24, WaMu Theater, 800 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle; sold out.
That the band is popular — its last two albums went No. 1 in the U.K., and it has sold out most shows on its current U.S. tour — is a testament to the quality of its songwriting and the ingenuity of its sound.
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When The xx released its eponymous debut album in 2009, nothing else sounded quite like it. Croft and Sim played clean, simple lines on guitar and bass, respectively, but enunciated like lovelorn R&B singers. Jamie Smith’s production combined the heft of hip-hop drums with an uncommon sense of space. It was modest, uncluttered music, beautiful in its economy like a mechanical watch.
Now vestiges of the group’s canny minimalism are everywhere, from bedroom producers on SoundCloud to big-name electronic artists like Kygo or The Chainsmokers, to rap superstar Drake.
The main thing that’s changed for The xx is that Smith’s popularity as a solo artist, under his stage name Jamie xx, is now on par with that of the band. His 2015 album “In Colour,” largely written while on tour with The xx, is a collection of cheery electronic music that showcases Smith’s production savvy and knowledge of U.K. dance music. It led to large-font-on-the-poster festival appearances, connections with famous rappers and a Grammy nomination.
It’s telling that some of the best moments from the new album “I See You” bear Smith’s signature. Most notable is “On Hold,” the album’s first single. Typical for an xx track, Sim and Croft exchange somber lines about a fading relationship. Then the drums come in, and it builds to a chorus that never comes — a pitch-shifted (and probably quite expensive) Hall & Oates sample takes its place.
Though it sounds like little else in The xx’s catalog, it shows the group slowly moving toward a bigger sound more often associated with the spaces it now plays. Even so, no one will confuse the group with arena rockers or mega DJs. As it has from the beginning, The xx is still approaching stardom in its own understated way.