If you think all the way back to the CMJ Music Marathon of 2009, you may remember that it was something of a coming out party for a then merely buzzy young British band called The xx. They were the band at the festival that year (along with maybe, uh, Fanfarlo?), playing somewhere around a dozen shows at venues as disparate as the Music Hall of Williamsburg and the NBC Experience Store up at Rockefeller Center. For all the hand-wringing we do each year about what it means for bands, and the media, to get swept up in the hype that builds and builds over these five days, well, I think we can agree that it worked out ok for these guys.
What’s most striking about the considerable success they’ve had is that again, despite everything so many of us have come to lament—the premature anointing of Next Big Things, the paltry amount of recorded (or even written) material necessary to be granted such a title, and the regularity with which the artists in questions are forgotten about—they’ve managed to sustain it for more than two years without releasing so much as a minute’s worth of new material.
A few things have helped make this possible. For one, there was a period of a few months in 2010 where it seemed like you couldn’t turn on the television without hearing one of their songs in a commercial or during you favorite show, so that obviously helped get them on the radar of regular folks everywhere. Then in September of 2010, they were awarded the prestigious Mercury Prize, which gave the album new life once again. But aside from a generally high taste level and a knack for not doing anything totally stupid or obnoxious, more than anything else, it seems, they’ve managed to stick around because of their desire to interact with other musicians, and vice versa.
Jamie Smith (who, in composing their beats and keyboard parts, probably plays the biggest role in shaping their sound) has gained notoriety for his remixes, first on the band’s FACT Magazine mix, and then most notably for We’re New Here, a track-by-track collaborative remix of Gil Scott Heron’s final album, I’m New Here. Perhaps even more importantly, though, the band’s own music has been embraced by an incredibly wide-ranging group of musicians. The list of bands that have covered xx songs is practically endless, including everyone from Gorillaz to Shakira, and now, almost unbelievably, Everything But the Girl, who’ve just released their version of “Night Time.”
It’s the first time the pair—Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt—have recorded together in over a decade, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it: I don’t think anyone would have guessed that it’d be a band of much-blogged-about 21-year-olds that would ultimately inspire them to reconvene. Their cover of the song is set to appear on a Tracey Thorn’s Night Time EP, being released by Merge on November 1, and it offers a pretty clear indication of why everyone’s so drawn to these songs: Because the originals are so minimal and so spacious, artists interested in recording their own versions are faced with limitless possibilities in terms of injecting the track with their own personal touches. Here, Thorn goes all sultry and bold, in stark contrast to famously hushed delivery of The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, and it works well, even as it sacrifices the dynamics of the original, which, under the circumstances, it’s amazing we remember at all.