The xx is comfort music. I didn’t discover the group’s first album, which came out in 2009, until sometime early in college a few years later. Its simple, stripped-down sound was a welcome accompaniment to long winter walks on campus with its warm tones and soothing vocals.
This past week has been a long winter walk for many of my friends and family. Throw in some pelting sleet and black ice for good measure. Annie and I missed a lot of the buildup to the election, and the subsequent letdown on Tuesday evening, which was blunted by 14 hours of travel from Iceland to Baltimore to Kansas City. By the time we landed, it wasn’t looking good for Clinton.
Iceland was beautiful and a welcome escape from reality, if only for a few moments. The Wi-Fi wasn’t great there and to be honest, my top priority wasn’t discovering new music, so I spent most of Wednesday going through my Spotify New Music playlist while I got caught up on work.
I’ve been telling myself that jetlag is responsible for the miserable, if shortened, week I just had. That’s likely part of it, but the other was the outcome of the election that I was too naïve to fathom ever being possible. There have been countless takes on what happened, countless journalists/media personalities/podcast hosts tossing blame, and countless tears shed by people all over the country for my words to add anything to the Kleenex pile. So I won’t.
Shock still lingering in my system, I fell upon the new xx song, “On Hold.” It begins like many other xx tracks, with Romy Madley Croft’s choir-like vocals welcoming you to the reality that is new xx music. Oliver Sim follows with his own soothing vocals as the song rises with a steady, measured production. And then, at 0:50, it bubbles over into something totally different. Hall & Oats different.
That’s right. This song samples “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” by Hall & freaking Oats. I had no idea. Try listening to the original song, if you can. I attempted it and blacked out for a moment, followed by a hallucination that I’d somehow fallen into a wormhole that dropped me into a dreamy 1980s nightclub complete with like, six mustachioed saxophone players. Don’t listen to it. It’s a weird, weird song. But Rodaidh McDonald and Jamie xx worked some magic with this sample because it transcends any previous xx song.
Jamie xx’s new solo artist stamp is totally evident in this track. I’ve not been as familiar with his debut album as I need to be—I also had no idea he was in The xx until last week but who among us, right?—but a quick visit to the band’s Wikipedia page confirms my claim. There’s a rising optimism to this song that never reveals itself on any of the previous xx albums. Describing it does no justice. Just listen.
Forget that the lyrics actually detail a broken relationship. We’ve all had those. Plenty of people had one last Tuesday. This is a bright, optimistic song as far as I’m concerned, because it was my first ray of light after election night’s dreariness and that hangover that followed. I can already tell it’ll be on repeat for weeks to come.