It's been five years since we heard from The xx. What do they sound like now? Chris Schulz finds out.

They were everywhere. And then they were nowhere. The xx made two albums of awesomely claustrophobic indie-pop - and then they ghosted us.

"It's been a long time coming," admits Romy Madley Croft about I See You, the British trio's follow-up to 2011's Coexist that's due for release tomorrow.

"It's been five years between albums. It's like being pregnant for a really long time."

Talking during a Melbourne press stop, Croft sounds relaxed, fresh and upbeat, a mood that matches The xx's new-found confidence and freedom.


I See You opens with the summery horn blast of Dangerous, moves into the sluggish reggae of Say Something Loving, to skittery love songs like I Dare You and On Hold, which land with the kind of danceable throb that could confuse fans for thinking they're hearing a different band.

Those xx trademarks are there: the intimate and intricate dual vocals of Croft and guitarist Oliver Sim, the minimalist house-tinged production delivered by Jamie xx, and the feeling that you're listening to something that's been written specifically for that special someone.

But I See You comes with a breezy, freewheeling attitude - "I'm on a different kind of high" sings Croft at one point. Some of these songs you could easily imagine being remixed into dancefloor bangers.

Chill? Definitely, says Croft, who admits the trio got a little too insular for that difficult second album.

"For Coexist, we shut ourselves away in a flat in London and we didn't play any music to anyone and we didn't open windows, which is all we felt we could do at the time," she says.

"With this album ... we realised things had changed. We felt confident to do things differently this time, get out of our comfort zone, go to other places outside of London ... and be open to different ideas of what makes us who we are.

"I think we realised that we're going to sound like us whether we try to or not."

There's still that five-year gap between albums to explain. Croft says much of it is down to Jamie xx's success with his solo album In Colour, one of last year's standout records that sent him out on tour and increased demand for his production talents.

In hindsight, she calls the delay a "blessing in disguise".

"We started it all together. We did a lot of early recording as a band, then Jamie's solo album came out and he became incredible busy. We're so proud of him but there were moments that made it hard to work on the songs we started on," she says.

"Oliver and I got better at producing our own demos independent from Jamie. It was really satisfying to produce Jamie a fully formed demo that he could inject parts of his personality in, with samples."

Her and Sims' approach to songwriting also changed. Instead of delivering lines of poetry to each other over email that they would then turn into songs, they started writing together.

"Just out of shyness we used to have to email each other. To sit in a room felt terrifying. The internet was very helpful in the early days. As we got older something shifted and it's very different ... We always wrote poems and only when the words were perfect would we sing them out. For us to sing gibberish and pick out words is quite exposing, but it's given us a new layer to our friendship."

For now, Croft says she's feeling "a spectrum of every emotion" as she waits for I See You to make it finally into the hands of fans.

"I'm so excited, obviously nervous, and I have lots of butterflies about what people will think," she says.

"We put our blood, sweat and tears into it and I feel like we've done the best we can do, so I hope people have fun listening to it."

Who: Rom Madley Croft from The xx
What: New album I See You, out Friday