wears the trousers magazine


the xx: xx (2009)
August 17, 2009, 9:14 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , , ,

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The XX
XX ••••
Young Turks / XL

Hailing from southwest London, the four members of The XX may have only just squeaked past their 20th birthdays but their music is honest and perceptive to a level few artists, even those twice their senior, ever manage to reach. Perhaps one reason is the band’s insistence on simplicity; from the lyrics to the production, every unnecessary thought or sound is stripped away, leaving raw, unprotected songs that have no fancy tricks or bombastic measures to hide behind. Recorded in the back room at their label’s West London office, often late at night after shifts at their day jobs, the noise of passing trains and sirens are still audible, further underlining their commitment to a no-frills production.

Collectively educated at the Elliot School in Putney, an institution that has also produced such artists as Adem, Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet, The XX boast some serious musical chops. Co-vocalists and lyricists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft are joined by Baria Qureshi on guitar and keyboards, and Jamie Smith, who in addition to programming the beats also serves as producer – quite an accomplishment for someone barely out of their teens. Yet despite tempting allusions to a possible “Elliot sound”, The XX pull instead from a curious blend of post-punk, hip hop and R&B, achieving a romantic yet mischievous tone.

To that end, much of the album resonates on the lower frequencies of the sonic spectrum through beats and basslines with a light peppering of bright guitar notes, making for a dark yet hopeful atmosphere. Devoid of chords or choruses to rally around, many of the songs choose instead to tiptoe and whisper their intentions. The lyrics, both thoughtful and guarded, reinforce the sense of contemplative innocence that permeates the album. That XX embodies the tone and character of the archetypal wallflower in everything from its unimposing instrumentation to the understated, breathy vocals is likely due to Madley-Croft and Sim’s documented real-life shyness. Despite knowing each other since the age of three, it was only recently that they were able to sing together for the first time, and that Madley-Croft’s parents heard her sing at all.

What makes The XX so intriguing isn’t immediately obvious; perhaps it’s simply the mashing of sultry beats and prickly guitar lines that sells it. XX is a slow burn, the kind of album that takes a few listens to fall in love with. An accomplished meditation on moments of uncertainty and hesitation, of metamorphoses, it is at turns haunting and sweet. And while it is by no means a perfect album, occasionally getting lost in its own hypnotic groove, it is without a doubt an impressive debut by anyone’s standards.

Elyse Cain
UK release date: 17/08/09; www.myspace.com/thexx

 

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[…] What we said then: “What makes The xx so intriguing isn’t immediately obvious; perhaps it’s simply the mashing of sultry beats and prickly guitar lines that sells it. xx is a slow burn, the kind of album that takes a few listens to fall in love with. An accomplished meditation on moments of uncertainty and hesitation, of metamorphoses, it is at turns haunting and sweet. And while it is by no means a perfect album, occasionally getting lost in its own hypnotic groove, it is without a doubt an impressive debut by anyone’s standards.” •••• Elyse Cain […]

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