xx – THE XX – 2009

I’m surprised it took me three years to get here. Why didn’t I hear of The XX before? Seriously, I would’ve been running around randomly recommending it to everyone. This is excellent, very mature music by people who were – surprisingly – only 19 when this album was released. Since then, they’ve become this buzz band, and I’m only too glad to write about their stuff here.

A few themes unify this album: sex, heartbreak and space. Those of you that are lyrics-focused might think that the former are paramount, but I assure you, the headroom in this music is absolutely critical to its intensely personal feel. The four ‘lead tracks’ exemplify this. “VCR” starts with a nursery rhyme tune that quickly segues into a bittersweet love song. “Crystallized” is far and away my favourite number here. Oliver Sim’s bass-playing (surely the most tasteful thing I’ve heard for a while) is right up against your ears, and when deployed along with his custardy voice makes for the sexiest song I’ve heard in a long, long time.

The same is this case with “Islands”, which is perhaps the most complete representation of what this band is all about. Erotic love, with single note bass and guitar weaving alternated to add weight to the near-whispered words. Romy Madley-Croft has a more ‘conventional’ delivery compared to the husky Sim, but the space given to their voices results is powerful moments achieved through voice alone, as in “Fantasy”.

My only concern is that on-stage, all the whispering and come-hither cooing doesn’t always come off very well. Some YouTubing reveals that while the band is tight on stage, the adrenalin clearly impacts the expressiveness of their singing. The XX is destined to be a well-known group, but the highly impersonal environment of a big stage is unsuited to the startling intimacy of their music.

That being said, this is a superb debut executed with a confidence and skill that far outranks musicians far older. Highly recommended; this sounds right.

– El Bajista


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