The xx - xx
This is the sort of music that depresses a certain percentage of people living in this writer’s home of Dublin, namely; those looking for Ireland to conjure up something both original and relevant. It is a rarity here for any young bands to really sparkle and sparkle long enough to produce more than that critically lauded debut. Brings to mind JJ72, The Thrills, in a way Ash and probably many many more erased from memory.
Hailing from London, naturally, this young foursome seem to have ingested as much musical knowledge and influence as one band could possibly do. Or as much as maybe Led Zeppelin, maybe. Their own Myspace website attests to this feat pronouncing their main influences, in rather broad strokes, as; everything from Rihanna to the Cure and the Pixies to Mariah Carey. Surely not one would think. How does that work out then? What kind of band/album is this?
Well be calm dear reader. It is nothing like you may have feared (Mariah pouring emotions over an edgy new Pixies song or her latest venture with Robert Smith to create a thought provoking ditty on geopolitical matters). There really is no discernible Carey or Rihanna elements here. Sure the Cure's lead basslines can be heard pumping through more than one track here (in format not in melody) and some of the guitaring may resonate with lovely Francis but for the most part this is a very intriguing and original album.
'Intro' is startling. Maybe, quite possibly the best intro of any album this year. It clicks and slams and saunters by with an incredibly devoted charm of its own. In fact 'Intro' is too weak a title for just a finely written jaunt. The latest single 'Crystalised' holds aloft some very infectious bass and guitar. It is graceful and smooth, creating a well layered atmosphere. The make-up here may be simplistic, but with nothing overly delivered here, simplicity seems to be the name of the game.
That and incredibly catchy. 'Islands' is a dirty laid-back number. It has an almost trip-hop feel to it, as does much of the album. There are moments too that recall Asian Dub Foundation, less fraught and vitriol and more enchanting thanks in part to Romy Madley Croft’s vocals – shared throughout the album with Oliver Sim. From there a feverish beauty is cast all over the album. Much on here is emotional and powerful as 'Heart Skipped a Beat' and 'Shelter' set out to prove. This is songwriting way ahead of their just out of teen years.
The latter half of the album might fail to be as challenging or as catchy as the first half but XX is certainly a well crafted accomplished debut; steady and assured. These kids were brought up on a solid diet of good music. Forget Rihanna and Carey. The Cure and the Pixies, maybe even Massive Attack, are the true greats here that grasped this band early on and allowed them to elevate their debut head and shoulders above most contemporaries. One to undoubtedly leave a lasting mark on even the most cynical of critics.
‘Basic Space’ is not simply a track title on this hypnotic self-titled début from Londoners The xx; it also serves as a nice summation of the group’s songwiting philosophy. With as much emphasis on the space between notes as on the spectral sounds themselves, what comes across as deceptively simple on first listen soon turns out to be powerfully seductive mood music. Flaunting an unabashed love for ‘90s R&B and two-step beats, and yet sounding completely removed from any current scene, The xx’s stripped-down, ‘less is more’ approach has yielded an understated nocturnal masterpiece – not to mention one of the finest comedown albums of the last ten years. (Paul Harrington)