on August 25, 2009
The xx have been all over blogs for a while now, and I first caught a track from them when their demos were leaked online. It was "Crystalised" and I was totally in love. When XX was released last week, I immediately bought it, and it has been playing through my headphones and speakers ever since.
The opening track, "Intro," is amazing on its own. Instrumental, if you consider their vocalization (without lyrics) an instrument. It sets the tone for the entire album, withe a chill yet building sound, and an ever thumping bass. The music seems simple, but fresh. There are moments in the album where the repeated echoing notes remind me of early Interpol and some of the riffs harken late 80s new wave, but I have a hard time drawing real parallels to other bands. Some of the lyrics make me nostalgic for a modern/retro 90s life I've never had ("watch things on vcrs, with me &talk about Big Love"), and the almost-fuzzy, understated-but-prominent male and female vocals, which both compete & come in as a chorus, remind me of some lazy love affair. Actually, the entire album seems to be an ode to this lazy love affair.
This really is my favorite debut of 2009. Incredibly impressive and something you want to get your hands on, I promise. Here's the tracklist, since amazon.com doesn't have one up yet:
05. Heart Skipped A Beat
08. Basic Space
10. Night Time
I've had this on constant replay for the last couple days and am now on about my 12th listen, and I'm still captivated. This is one of the most impressive albums that I've heard in some time. Imagine 17 Seconds era Cure with Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins sharing lead vocals, produced by Timbaland. That's the starting point for this bewitching set of tunes. From the opening INTRO through to the closing STARS, every song is a highlight and flows perfectly into the next one. Languid guitars, spare beats and casual, conversational tag team male-female vocals created a dreamlike sound with plenty of space and emotion. I'm cueing it up for another listen. Very highly recommended.
on October 6, 2009
From the opening notes of "Intro," I think it's obvious that this band is on to something. People often say Spoon's strength lies in their ability to edit their sound until only the bare essentials of music are left: a beat and a melody. Well whatever it is that Spoon got onto, The XX seem to have taken it a step further, somehow managing to cut their sound down even further. This is certainly a challenging album, but it's simultaneously incredibly rewarding once you really get into the groove. The band's female singer has a beautiful, sultry voice, and she's perfectly suited to the band's lean, taut style. However, because the band's sound is so idiosyncratic, I would highly recommend that prospective fans try before they buy. Even if this is one of the year's best debuts, it is also going to be a divisive album, and it really isn't for everyone. But if you can give the record a few spins, I think just about anyone will be able to get why these guys have been picking up rave reviews across the internet.
I fell for this album at first listen.
I didn't even have to listen all the way through; I was hooked by the first spare atmospheric guitar pluckings on the unfortunately-titled "Intro." (I only complain because it seems like a dismissive title; the song is so much more than a mere lead-in to other things.) Granted, I was predisposed to like it; I'd been seduced from afar by the rave reviews, the sexy group name and album title--is anything sexier than an X? Yes, four Xs--and the cool mystique. But there's a lot of well-reviewed stuff that sounds good in the dim light of a first encounter but doesn't hold up to the morning's harsh judgment, and the harsher judgment of succeeding days.
This, on the other hand, turned out to be one of those albums that gets better and better as I get to know it; I listen to such albums and end up almost amazed that they didn't already exist somehow; there is something primal and right about them, something sonically equivalent to a tetris piece that materialized from nowhere and fell exactly into a deep hole inside me that I somehow hadn't noticed before.
Granted, this album works partly by evoking other great albums that have come before, all the masterpieces of shoegaze and dubstep and trip-hop; in some ways it succeeds more as culmination and synthesis than as departure. Still, it succeeds at both; it differentiates itself because it manages to be warm and cool at the same time, without being lukewarm. The music is spare and icy, a nighttime cityscape viewed through a high-rise window; the heat comes from the vocals, a male and female voice talking to each other at pillow distance or closer; they only want enough backdrop to set the mood, and no more, because they're doing their damndest to never leave the bedroom--or, better yet, the bed.
But--importantly--it isn't the sound of love, exactly. It is many things, but it is not quite that; it is desire and codependency and lust, and the fear of how much colder it will all feel when one or the other leaves. The words aren't just the lies one hears on the radio or whispered in one's ear; they're also the real things one hears in one's head and sees written across a lover's face while their lips are busy saying other things: "Sometimes I still need you" and "I think I'm losing where I end and you begin" and "I'm setting us into stone piece by piece before I'm alone" and so on, and so forth. ("I'm sure you heard it before," they sing on "Heart Skipped a Beat," and if you're anything like me, you have heard it before, or thought it, or said it, or lived it--or all of the above. And you soundtracked it to Portishead, or Burial, or Massive Attack, or My Bloody Valentine, or Slowdive--but not this, because, of course, it didn't exist yet.)
And yet it does deserve to exist, and so much more--to be a soundtrack of its own, to be noticed and obsessed over in its own right, for its own considerable strengths. The XX are bold enough to dispense with most of the drumming and thereby create something new and unique; they are bold enough, too, to keep in both the warm breath of smoky soul and whispered lies, and the cold backdrop outside--the distant city, and the realities one can't hold at bay forever.
Still, again, this is one of those albums that leaves you crazy when you try to leave it cold. Like all lovers, it reminds you of others, and like all the best, it has its flaws, and it somehow manages to be perfect and unique in spite of them, and maybe even because of them. If you're anything like me, you might come up with reasons not to like it, or to hold it at arm's length. (I told myself that the male vocals were too mumbly, and the female ones too breathy, and that the songs were too varied in quality, because they range from "Perfect" to "Really Great.") Eventually, though, you'll find yourself wondering, "When am I going to spend time with xx again?" and realizing you just got together yesterday, and thinking you still need another fix anyway. And--and this is the truest test--you will be willing to forsake time with your other loves (Sorry, Joanna Newsom!) to make it happen. Actions speak louder than words, and the play count tells me more about my feelings for this album than anything I can set down here.
on February 26, 2012
Irrespective of one's taste in music, this album (the vinyl edition, in particular) is one of the best produced albums in years. If you are a serious fan of top-quality audio, I heartily recommend you check out this record.
While the CD version sounds good, this album really shines when it comes to the sonic quality of the LP. Vocals are crisp, clean, colored beautifully, drum sounds range from paint-peeling booms to subtle splashes, the synth and guitar lines are full of excellent timbral choices and are balanced in the mix with care.
If you have nice audio equipment, this LP will reward your ears.
Additionally, the song-writing is clever and inspired. The performances are well executed and the album has a pleasant variety of styles.
Highest recommendation here! Enjoy!
on April 6, 2012
Let me start by saying; This is the first time I have ever reviewed anything online. I have fallen in love with this album over the last year. So much so, it compelled me to write my first review.
While many of the tracks can hold their own, I believe the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. This is an album meant to be heard from start to finish. The intro sets the appropriate tone for the album's entirety. Taking you on a journey which gets better every time you hear it. It's mesmerizing melodies tell the take of a full cycle of love. Infatuation, lust, love, dispair, and rediscovery, narrated by two haunting voices that balance one another perfectly.
While the musicianship isn't enough to carry it alone, the composure is nothing short of genius. This is a perfect example of musical minimalism. The absences of notes makes the seemingly simplistic melodies keep your interest throughout. The songwriting is sheer poetry. Not a word's meaning is wasted or lost. This is a piece of artistry which is meant to be heard. This is something you can put on in the background, or personally experience through headphones, absorbing every last word and note. Their next release can't come soon enough.
on November 21, 2009
First off don't let the title mislead you - this album is very good. But because of its sparse and dark sound it conjures images of an under-lit lounge where heroin chic teenagers slowly move about a crush red velvet room feeling the ecstasy of the drug run through their veins and delight in the shared environment. Its sexy, hip, and low key. The problem is I feel like Chairlift did the same exact thing last year and a bit better as they weren't held to this ambient idea and had some variation. However, I personally feel I can not deny how artistically interesting this album is. In a world of larger than life pop stars make bigger and heavily produced music, independents, such as the fore mentioned Chairlift, Feist (and to a lesser extent D.C.F.C. and Hot Chip), are going more simplistic in their sounds; and in that simplistically comes easy and relaxed music that, quite frankly, you could listen to on a lazy day reading or napping. It becomes part of the space it plays in, or perhaps forces one to adjust their environment to it. Either way its a sign of a good album.
on July 23, 2015
Likely one of their best releases, arguably one of the more diverse. This is the music for sitting back with a drink in your hand and relaxing. If you have purchased the vinyl pressing you have a decent amount of time to listen before the album will require you to stand and flip the record. It comes with a sturdy jacket and a nicely made inner sleeve that will help you save costs on the inevitable replacements / safety precautions that arise with vinyl. There is nothing special in the pressing but it is, regardless, a well made product.
The music is certainly esoteric, if you are looking to purchase Xx, you likely already know what you are getting and are making an attempt to support artists near and dear to you. That being said, if Xx is entirely new to you, a trip to Youtube or sampling through the Amazon menu will give you more information than a biased opinion can offer in regard to the quality of their offerings.