Hall of Fame: Looking back on The xx’s ‘xx’

Looking back on The xx’s ‘xx’

A simple white cross that stamped itself on 2009’s ears, this London band’s debut album was a fully realised first outing unlike any other.

Many people first encountered The xx when a single white logo (with a passing resemblance to the logo for OXO stock cubes, incidentally) flashed up without warning on their tellies. Sandwiched in the middle of painfully dated traditional album trailers, and… erm, anti-blackhead cream adverts, the London band’s crisp, minimal interruption – shooing open a pocket of silence in a world that just won’t shut up – laid out the band’s clear intentions from the get-go. 

A skeletal, and strangely soulful album, The xx’s first full length combines countless touchstones, from early-Cure type guitar lines, and submerged R’n’B, right through to the hum of tinny UK garage escaping out of a neighbour’s headphones on the nightbus. Placing minimalism on the same kind of pedestal as a high-end Scandinavian Airbnb could feel a little distant coming from most musicians. The xx, on the other hand, wield dead-air and negative energy like a razor-sharp calling card. The desire, uncontainable lust and whispering delivery that permeates every lyric keeps any accusation of sterility at bay, too.

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The xx wield dead-air and negative energy like a razor-sharp calling card.

A far cry from buzz bands that are rushed urgently over the debut album mark before they’ve even bought their own guitars, The xx worked with their label Young Turks for over two years before they turned their attentions towards anything of the sort. After unsuccessful trials in the studio with producers Diplo and Kwes, The xx found themselves gifted more of their beloved basic space; with XL handing over their in-house studio keys to Jamie Smith. His night time experiments shaped ‘xx’. These days he’s best known as Jamie xx instead; a world-famous producer in his own right. The xx would go on to be sampled by Rihanna for ‘Drunk in Love,’ while Alt-J would name their own ‘Intro’ in honor of the London band. Perhaps it’s The xx’s sureness of vision which led to their Mercury Prize, and all.

The xx comes down to two things – basic space and simplicity. The record seeps with sonic emptiness for a start; skeletal hand-claps playing tag with steady step-up-step-down melodies. Then, there’s the potent combination of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft. There’s something effortless about their vocals in combination, weaving huskily about each other in half whispers. Plainly honest lines sit right next to ‘Crystalised’’s surreal melting glaciers and the eerie horror movie beginnings of ‘Fantasy’. ‘xx’ appears so simple, and yet it’s saturated with influence, every dynamic shift in volume painstakingly considered. It’s rare to hear a band this realised on their first outing together, and rarer still to see a debut this unrivalled in its influence on music seven years on.

For all the rest of DIY’s Hall of Fame coverage, head here.