the xx xx
  • TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

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The self-titled debut from The XX has a striking subtlety, a poignant disorganization, and a series of affecting lyrics; a trifecta of immaturity rarely accomplished by such a young, brash band. There is a formidable lack of gimmicks. There is no discernible self-righteous song-writing. XX has almost no climactic moments, no shimmering orchestral magic. There is little to no innovation. But something is there, pulling at the ears, an undertow of raw emotion and desire squeezing the heart. It's not a polite record, or the kind that offers answers to uneasy souls. But it is satisfying in a strange way, like bitter alcohol, or seeing someone forgotten from your past on the street. It is a record of calm and collected catastrophe.

The influences here are arguable; the sound seems to be of The Cure-era shoegaze, but The XX have publicly declared their love for and even covered Aaliyah (among other R&B singers). "Intro" seems to inspire head nodding like a radio gem, but again the subtle nuances of a simple riff, a drum machine, so boring in their separate parts come together for some sort of minimalist genre fusion of fuzzy alt-rock and R&B grooves. This explains most of the albums appeal; the draw of the best of these two styles smashed together is a powerful agent. These guys could easily have some face-melting remixes coming their way. The simple drum machines already sound terrifyingly lucid when paired with the melodies.

Oh, right, then there is the blatant sexuality. As has been observed by numerous critics, when it comes to the subject material, the lyrics aren't necessarily as masking or subtle as the instrumentation. The dual vocals provide the appropriate amount of tension, especially when intertwined with different lyrics simultaneously (as on "Crystalised"). The juxtaposition of "sea" and "sun" sung at the same time is so simple, yet so odd and appealing. "Islands" picks up the groove motif, but has the same push and pull of voices, back and forth. In fact, the two voices establish an impressive balance throughout, one that is simultaneously comforting and miserably disconnected. "Can I make it better/with the lights turned on" feels incredibly empty, but somehow, sincere in it's eroticism. There is no rooting for one or the other, we're all in this together, and it gives XX a feeling of continuity and cohesion.

The weird part is the tone of the voices throughout, quite the contrary of their R&B influences, are kind of static. Neither voice is particularly excited to be saying anything, and every verse is delivered with the appropriate amount of smoothed out angst. Cries of "Give it up" answered with "I can't give it up/to someone else's touch/because I care too much," when written down, honestly sound dumb. But I think that part of the magic of XX is their ability to take a series of incomprehensible elements and make mountains. By the end it kind of breaks your heart, but for some reason, you wouldn't have it any other way. -joe puglisi

***


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