Performance art: Run the Jewels + The xx

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

Last time out they blasted the futility of being black and poor in a country continuously astonished that poor black men exist. This time Killer Mike and EL-P cruise through fourteen more reconstructed nightmares. Losing nothing in propulsion but gaining texture, these tracks are strange, powerful, and gripping pieces of music. Even when EL-P’s flow can’t match Mike’s, the verses stick: “Death’s a release but a much bigger beast is a living on limited time/Like how do you look in the eyes of a friend and not cry when you know that they’re dying?” is clunky, but I doubt prosody is what he’s after. Those lines are from “Thursday in the Danger Room,” to which Kamasi Washington contributes mournful bleats. But a conventional boast like “Everybody Stay Calm” refreshes the room

The xx – I See You

This time the Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt of the daze-y age have a novel concept: arena-scale intimacy. On their third album they do the third album thing where they consolidate their strengths and so on. No cynicism, though — they sing beyond and around it, like they do beyond and around their limitations as singers and players. A master interior designer of well-appointed spaces on the Target end of luxe, Jamie xx, together with co-producer Rodaidh McDonald, encourage their colleagues to project to Section 56B without sacrificing an iota of warmth. That’s talent. “Say Something Loving” is their peak: completing each other’s sentences, joining in and separating from harmony, Romy Croft and Oliver Sim join a brass section in ebb tide to limn a new kind of romantic despair. Croft may affect Ocean Blue tunings on her guitar, but she’s never a blank — she aims for realism, coaxing Sim into getting over his ailments. Without her, commonplaces about favorite mistakes and broken young hearts would tax anyone over thirty. The second best song addresses what every self-conscious artist prizes: it’s called “Performance,” boasting a violin mixed like Jack White at RFK stadium.

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