If you can tell how good a band is based on how they sound without all the dress-up, then the XX is surprisingly accomplished even at this early stage of the game.
There’s so little going on musically that it’s hard to peg them as an electronic band, but this London quartet (now paired to a trio thanks to keyboardist Baria Qureshi’s recent departure) is obviously indebted to ’80s electronica on their debut.
The very things that keep XX as qualifying as an electronic album are the same ones that make it special. There’s an incredible amount of depth going on from just a thin layer of atmospheric keyboards, a twangy guitar and the hushed vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim.
XX is beautifully dark and melancholy from start to finish, with very little difference in the execution of each song. When you’re dealing with such limited musical sources and progressing at half-speed while doing it, you can easily cause listeners to lose interest. But not here; Croft and Sim sound like a couple in their duets, and with such whispered delivery, you’re forced to listen.
And like an ear on glass over the wall, you’ll catch some keen observations on young relationships. From hanging out in front of HBO (“We watch things on VCRs…and talk about Big Love” – “VCR”) to enduring high maintenance relationships (“Do I have to keep up the pace / Just to keep you statisfied?” – “Crystalised”), Croft and Sim provide intriguing point/counterpoint moments throughout XX. The highlight is “Infinity,” a “Wicked Game” type of ballad where Sim actually sounds like he’s in another room singing his parts. “Give it up” he moans out while Croft-who’s way up in the mix on the left channel matter-of-factly responds “I can’t give it up.”
It’s moments like those-the hints of depth and intriguing stories-that call for repeated listens. And because XX is seasoned with so few instruments, it’s very hard to grow tired of it.
The arrangement strategy is a bold move, but it’s the lyrics where you start to understand how this is a very complex record for such a young band. “But if stars should shine/by their very first time/then dear, its fine” they sing on “Stars,” and The XX shine remarkably bright on their debut outing.
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”