Yes, I know this album came out a few months back, and yes of course, I know that it’s been Pitchfork’d and deemed by the ostentatious reviewer as a winning album worthy of repeat listens, but guess what? The P-fork team actually got it spot on for a change. The xx‘s debut album really is a melancholic grower of ambient indie-pop goodness.
The band are mere kids, just graduating from the Elliot School of Music in London where Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet are also alumni. But whereas the latter graduates are all heavily steeped in leftfield electronica, The xx are writing sparse pop songs for shattered hearts, introspection, and the coming grey weather.
Upon first listens, I kept feeling like I wanted more. A loud distorted swell of guitars at the end of a song, a ridiculously catchy hook, or at least one verifiable “hit” for Christ’s sake, but the album gave me no such thing. I thought back to Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm”, and how infectious “Banquet” was – aka the verifiable hit. I also remembered that even though “Silent Alarm” was uber-hyped, it was still an amazing album that you couldn’t help but want to slap on repeat and play extra loud. But The xx’s debut is a different beast entirely, and should really in no way be compared to Bloc Party or any other “rock” band coming out of the UK at this time.
The album is minimal, slow, and moody. The vocals a very accomplished attempt at the boy and girl back and forth. Their lyrics contemplate sex, the idea of love, and experience. The drums are programmed but done with style and class. The guitars jangly, reverbed, and simple, but every so often the bass will just drop about 50 decibels and wobble your chest (and maybe your heart?) and this is when you begin to notice there’s quite a lot more going on here. And of course, this is when the album grows like an ill-fated relationship, doomed to cause that beautiful sadness you hate but also secretly love to wallow in.
A damn good album, an impressive debut, and pretty much all alone when it comes to trying to classify. Give it a few listens in the mornings, or better yet, try it out at night with candles flickering on the nightstand and lips puckering on the bed.
Edit: The XX’s self-titled debut hits number 7 on my Best Of 2009 List!
Edit 2: Check out my review of the xx in Toronto on April 4, 2010.