There was a time, circa 2009, where The XX were but a myth, a whimsical whisper that flitted around of those that had their well trained hound’s ear firmly planted on the ground. The four – for there were four – were but a buzzworthy rumour passed on from one London hipster to the next of a sound so intoxicatingly mellow and an image so juvenile and emo that the whole facade was one that could only have been concocted by a bunch of isolated students.
Fast-forward to the present day and The XX are shot of a member (guitarist/keyboardish Baria Qureshi left in late 2009), have two critically acclaimed albums, and have performed everywhere from their garage to Coachella and everything in between. They have also been nominated for numerous awards and have soundtracked films such as The Great Gatsby and the NBC coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Not bad, it seems, for a band from Wandsworth. A fast trajectory, it appears, and one that is definitely well deserved given the strength and poignancy of their self-titled debut album. Talking of which, xx was an album overflowing with atmospheric songs perfect for soundtracking a whole menagerie of TV advertisements, so much so that even the most casual music fan could probably hum along to the chorus of Crystalised. Indeed, the months that followed The XX’s transatlantic explosion were ones that cajoled any music nut into tugging their hair in staunch frustration, watching on helplessly as one of the most intriguing and promising new bands were plucked from the drudge by the mainstream press and placed smugly on the pedestal as the ‘next big thing’.
It is clear from the opening notes of the imaginatively entitled Intro however, that this young group of musicians have struck upon something special, a sound that all at once sounds familiar and fresh, whilst carrying an air of distance whilst also being suffocatingly intimate. This is bed chamber music at its most innocent, perfectly evidenced by VCR, with singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim soothingly murmuring their way through the lyrics ‘Watch things on VCR with me and talk about big love’. Such an uncouth approach to singing has become a trademark for the band, with Madley-Croft and Sim alternately exchanging, interweaving and collaborating in each song, their almost offensively unrefined voices tugging the listener through the ebb and flow of the music in an abnormally captivating manner.
[youtube id=”Pib8eYDSFEI” width=”620″ height=”360″]
To listen to xx in anything other than solitude would be to do it an injustice, for it deserves full attention and no distractions, lest you miss that vital pluck of the guitar, beat of percussion or whispered confession. So minimal it is shrouded in a veil of secrecy that allows for emotional transparency, songs such as Shelter, Heart Skipped A Beat and Night Time feel almost intrusive and are almost a voyeuristic insight into someone’s inner turmoils. Of course, atmosphere plays a large and important component in making music that truly resonates with its audience, and the sparse guitars and beats of Jamie xx (who found further success as a producer and DJ in his own right) create a slumberly tone that acts as a lullaby to the real world.
In the past decade, it is difficult to think of a band who’s debut was so accomplished (even if unintentionally so), critically revered and commercially successful as xx. Catapulting the band to international stardom, all eyes watched as they worked to craft its successor, 2012’s Coexist, an effort that managed to be even more scant and emotionally loaded. It will be intriguing to see the realms to which The XX will progress, however their debut will forever be held in the upper echelons of the noughties best.
A minimalist classic, in a maximalist age.
::: covering reviews and interviews for the latest music releases on RenownedForSound.com