Off the Record: "XX" by The xx
By CHRIS DONAHER
The xx are a band that aren’t afraid to get sexual. Their self-titled debut album is so steeped in sexual tension and intimacy that there isn’t a single track that grants the listener respite. As a 4-piece London band hailing from the same musical school that brought the world fellow dancefloor craftsmen Hot Chip, The xx have quickly been gaining support both in the UK and internationally on the strength of their music’s infectious and impactful structure.
Each track is an exchange, a private dialogue between vocalist Oliver Sim and his foil Romy Croft. Despite this often-weighty lyrical arrangement, the mellow pairing of the sullen Sim with the fainter voice of Croft feels perfectly suited to the bare-bones instrumentation beneath.
The songs can range from intimate discourses on longing in “VCR” to tracks like “Crystalized” that exude a heat-of-the moment need. There is something both personal and exposed resting on the down-tempo guitar echoes and dampened percussion, which on “XX” benefits from their sparsity. Rather than use excessive layering, each track relies on a drum machine and interwoven guitar melodies to complement the lyrical momentum.
There are no dance tracks on this album—no party tunes—but The xx have succeeded in bringing compelling lyrics together with contemplative accompaniment to make a memorable compilation. The album slows down during the latter half, where the songs become more emotionally careful and reserved, but it inevitably feels more like a coherent decision than an effect of weak songwriting.
For a debut album, “XX” is mature and thoughtful. “Islands” is a wistful and hopeful take on burning bridges and finding a person with whom you can truly identify. In “Shelter,” Romy speaks of a desire to fulfill expectations, despite a fear of the consequences. The xx do not attempt to address the listener directly but instead provide a window into the duo’s interactions,
Taken as a down-tempo pop album, “XX” succeeds because it is honest and real. As an independent album, it succeeds in its ability to garner such a massive amount of positive press from such humble beginnings. As the first album from the xx, it succeeds in being arguably one of the best albums of 2009.