“XX” – ‘The XX’ [Joint Review]
We’ve been very irregular in our posts these past couple of weeks, we’ve made many an excuse for our absences lately, ranging from full-fledged lies to semi-understandable truths: what am I saying, we’re just a little lazy, that’s all. There are a myriad of other descriptive synonyms if you don’t like that one, but for now?
Michael Hodder has had some interesting albums up his sleeve since the onslaught of music returned [despite our resource-failure!], and although my luck has been more than sour, we agreed unanimously that “XX” was an album we wanted to take a punt at, and ‘The XX’ were a band that we’d watch out for in the hopefully not-to-distant future. With a mixture of somewhat difficult-to-define musical elements, let the discussion begin:
‘The XX’ are a London-based quartet, featuring the dual-vocalisation of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, on lead and bass respectively. Baria Qureshi on keyboards/guitar and Jamie Smith on beats/MPC tag-along to make the fundamental basis that is ‘The XX’. You’ll find a combination of elec. guitar, synth beats and dark, despondent vocals which are at the core of all eleven tracks. Topping-off at around the forty-minute mark, Croft & Sim will have you eating out of the palm of their hands…
There’s a generous mix of dark and darker in “XX”, and for those of you that loved the hop-and-optimism that ‘Passion Pit’ radiated with in their smash-hit “Manners”, then you’ll find yourself a little disappointed. Those familiar with the sense of isolation that ambient/soundscape music has made so characteristically it, then you’re on the right track so far; think on terms with bands like ‘The Dead Sea’, with the vocal-attitudes of ‘Massive Attack’ and the synth to match both. It’s just you, the stereo, and the oxygen between.
When it comes down to genre, here’s where my ears get a little lost and my eyes get a little dizzy: I’m reading indie, electronica, post-punk, dance. At the same time I’m hearing – yeah, some of those things, nah, none of those things. For starters, let’s toss dance right out the window. “XX” has this consistent synth beat throughout its tracks, but dance elements are less prominent because they’re featureless without its stereotypical friends ‘repetition’ and ‘pace’. There’s nothing fast and nothing same-y about it, or at least, I ain’t getting no vibe in that direction. Peoples, if you can remember back to a review about a nice little band called ‘We Fell To Earth’ with their self-titled album, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from – there’s this secluded-intimacy that ‘WFTE’ had with its listeners, and when I listen to “XX”, it’s like ‘WFTE’s’ track “The Double” throughout. Think of jazz’s intimacy with listeners – this is the kind of music that keeps people on edge, begging for more. This is the kind of music that you sit back on your chair, or your couch, or whatever, and stare off into the naked distance.
You’re helplessly caught in the hypnotic lullaby of Croft & Sim, spiralling uncontrollably towards this never-ending fairytale of darkness; ad infinitum. The ephemeral nature of “XX” makes it short-lived, however – it’s like ‘The Temper Trap’s’ album “Conditions”, and when we get to “Drum Song”, we’re left hanging, wanting more, more, MORE!
More, I say – dammit, I want more!
“XX” is an album flaunting potential, track after mind-blowing track, ‘The XX’ never fail to captivate. First cab off the rank, “Intro” – appropriately named – bears with it the nasty connotations of instrumental-indie/post-rock, and timed-in at 2:08, it’s a real ice-breaker. Don’t frown on the lack of vocalisation, this is the driving force. Human-voice is utilised rather as an instrument than as the usual accessory for lyrics, or otherwise. It’s this delectable-riff that just keeps on-a-goin’! I’m just going to example ‘Interpol’ for a moment, and their first album, “Turn On The Bright Lights”. If you folks have been doing your musical-duties, then you’ll remember a track called “Untitled”, and that, my friends, is the birthplace of instrumental-introductions such as “Intro”.
Need I say anymore?
I’m going to jump all the way to “Fantasy”, which is smack-bang in the middle – if you’ve been following ‘The XX’, “Crystallised” was one of their singles. And I know my partner might attack “VCR”, so I’ll leave that to him. “Fantasy” opens with the low drone of synth, and the distant, resonant voice of Sim alone. As the track persists, you can feel the shadows enveloping the music, you might even find yourself squinting as you search for meaning. The word:
Shifts about from side to side, never lingering in one place long enough for you to find. At 1:22 the sub-sonic beat comes in, followed by an abrupt elec. guitar with its solemn, low-riding riff. Pace is all but gone, this track oozes along, time slows, reality ebbs out of existence. This is a real mind-mushing experience needed to be heard for full appreciation.
All the way to another personal favourite, and that’s “Infinity”. It starts off with that same resonance that “Fantasy” had, again with Sim alone. The shift of high-and-low makes this track smooth and intimate. The juxtaposition of Croft & Sim is amazingly separated. Some might find the synth-claps a little much, but it’s those same riffs that keep this track together, just the same with “Fantasy”. The meaning of chorus, in these circumstances, has been numbed.
It’s defenitely worth a buy, and even if you think it isn’t, I recommend you listen intently, change that mind of yours. Just another great band being pumped out of the UK, and it really shows – the calibre over in Europe is so well-defined and intriguing. Because I can’t fully agree with a few minor tracks, “XX” is an album that retains its feeling of mystery even when all its ends are bare. I love it, just love it!
Stand-out Tracks: “Intro”, “Fantasy”, “Infinity”
The Enantiomorphic God