Album Review The XX - XX

Whilst it’s easy to address the youth and inexperience within the energy, the expert crafting of nanoseconds of priceless silence is so valuable and rare. Nothing on this record is overdone and this assures the stand-out elements become even more powerful.

The XX

defy the claim that gadgets kill intimacy. The base of their sound comes from a sampler, manually applied with tight, short-spanning rhythms and deep bass notes. Amongst this are delay-enhanced guitar patterns, adding bulk to a lost, spacious atmosphere. But in Romy Madley-Croft and even more so, Oliver Sim, we find soul coming from all sides. Their softly spoken vocals feel inches away, close enough to hear an inhalation, a whimper even. And their debut album offers a simple input on love, the most human of subjects. This all adds up to a unique entity: whilst one can draw parallels audibly with the likes of Burial and Interpol, neither of the aforementioned venture into vulnerability quite as much as The XX.

“I think we’re superstars, you say you think we are the best thing“. With love, Sim and co. offer very little lyrically in terms of wallowing in self-pity and wandering into territories as dark as the sound behind the words and this contrast works perfectly. ‘VCR’ is untouchable, convinced of its own triumph. When love takes a turn, as it does in ‘Crystalised’, instead of it being a stereotypical tale of “sob, sob, he doesn’t love meee!”, the song covers the strain of being asked to do too much (”Do I have to keep up the pace, to keep you satisfied?“). Tension in lyrics is amplified ten-fold by the pitch-black minimalism, the interchanging voices of Oliver and Romy, the gigantic, James Bond-esque chorus melody. ‘Crystalised’ is fully aware that the listener is on their knees, begging for everything to explode, and the song teases the listener, tempting them, before unleashing on two magnificent occasions.

Whilst it’s easy to address the youth and inexperience within the energy, the expert crafting of nanoseconds of priceless silence is so valuable and rare. Nothing on this record is overdone and this assures the stand-out elements become even more powerful. ‘Islands’ blossoms because of this routine, interlocking floor-shaking bass rhythms with acute, knife-edged guitar. Sim and Madley-Croft chant, “I am yours now, so now I don’t ever have to leave.” in unison. As a pack, both vocalists emerge as the brains behind the sound, or so my gut instinct tells me. However, assimilated in the soaring, 4am energy, Sim shines on his own vocally, lost in the darkness and reverb of ‘Fantasy’. His companion is just as effective in ‘Shelter’, the most basic pop song on the record: a driven, tidy plea, Madley-Croft offering to “make it better, with the lights turned on…“

‘Basic Space’, however, is the defining focal point of the record. As proficient as they are in tidying up anything that sounds too exaggerated and overblown, nothing is quite as beautiful as this 21st century lullaby. Near-silent drum patterns occasionally invite themselves in between scarcely found warmth and this soulful charm we mentioned previous. Slight but stainless.

Prepare yourselves for a forthcoming decade, one with The XX’s name set in stone already. Taster or not, leaving aside what they have in store for us next, ‘XX’ is a manifesto, a declaration and a masterclass in how to apply silence and beauty at the same time, with such ease.

 

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