There’s a lot of hype currently encircling The XX, and quite justifiably so. In May they released their debut single, ‘Crystalised’. It was dark, mysterious and various other adjectives that connote “atmospheric”. It was an ultimately brilliant track that whetted the appetites of moody young trendoids everywhere.
Comprised of primary schoolmates Romy Madley Croft (vocals/guitar), Oliver Sim (vocals/bass), Baria Qureshi (keyboards/guitar) and Jamie Smith (beats/sampler), the London-based foursome are now unleashing their debut album, XX, a collection of oft lachrymose and lackadaisical, yet pacing tunage.
The opener, the aptly named ‘Intro’, gives the album a suitably atmospheric hue that permeates throughout. Production wise, it’s impeccable. The XX have opted to keep production duties within the band, an element that sets their debut apart from much of the indie fodder that’s currently abound. Sparse, yet distinctly crisp drum patterns play under muted guitar strings and subtle basslines.
The minimalist approach to instrumentation works to amplify what little is being heard. In this case, the vocals consistently stand out. Crossing over each other in smoky plumes, Oliver Sim employs a whispering sprechgesang technique – not dissimilar to Tricky’s delivery – where Croft’s soothing R&B tinged vocal embellishes the dead pan tones of the former. There’s angst and tension amongst the soothing and ethereal melodies. Supposedly many of the tracks were conceived at night, and it shows. ‘Fantasy’ is ambient, ‘Shelter’ is gloomy, like the long walk home after a shit night on pills. Croft frequently sings over a sullen guitar riff.
We’ll avoid endless gush-isms. Some tracks are, well, quite tiresome. On occasion the endless gloom can become quite tedious. Alas, it’s not all late-night teenage misery-tinged. Close, but not completely. ‘VCR’ begins with a beguiling chime before what is perhaps the most upbeat-beat kicks in. Ok, so the vocals continue to bring a sullen tone to the table, but the chorus is quite nice. Then there’s of course the excellent ‘Crystalised’, it’ll have you coming back for more. The same can also be said of ‘Basic Space’, which begins with an odd drum pattern before bursting into what could arguably be described as a gloomy pop-song. ‘Islands’ is again stark, moody and irresistibly appealing.
Definitely a band to keep your eyes on. For a group this young they’ve produced an album well beyond their years. Wearing their influences on their sleeve yet combining such elements to create an unmarked sound. Like it this winter.