Album Review: The XX, “xx” (2009)

My early 20’s, though technically only a few years ago, seem like a whole universe away to me now.  Most of the memories I have of my life during the ages of 20-23 are fond; highlighted by the friends I had, the men I dated, the places I went, and the music I listened to.  In fact, all of the memories of those years are accompanied by a soundtrack- various artists and albums I listened to frequently in my car, in my room alone, heard in bars, or played in my house when friends were over for lazy summer days or BBQs in the evening.

One such album is The xx’s debut, xx.  The CD was released during the summer I turned 22, and I remember playing it often- when I was alone, when I went on road trips, when my friends were over for beers, when I drove around aimlessly through my city late at night when I couldn’t sleep.  Those memories are, perhaps, what keeps me coming back to the album now, 4 years later (the disc was released in 2009), but I’d also like to think that I keep revisiting the music on this CD simply because it’s just good music.

The British indie pop/electronica band begins their album with the aptly titled track, Intro.  The song is a mainly instrumental piece, composed of electric guitar and piano, and quiet harmonizing from lead singers, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (Croft and Sim also did the majority of the songwriting and produced the album together).  The track isn’t too flashy, but is a nice way of introducing what we can expect from the rest of the album.

Next up is VCR, a track lead by Croft’s husky, alluring vocals, which provide a perfect contrast to Sim’s sweet tenor.  Their complementing tones sound perfect on this track about a happily simplistic relationship. Crystalized, with its keyboards and electric guitars, might be futuristic sounding enough to be classified as synth-pop. The lyrics during the chorus (“So don’t think that I’m pushing you away/When you’re the one that I kept closest”) are some of my favorites on the album.

The song that lead me to the band was Islands, a song I listened to so many times that it became the top track on both my iTunes and my last.fm account.  There’s something so perfect about the track- the breezy melody, the sultry vocals, the simplistic lyrics (“I am yours now/So now I don’t ever have to leave/I’ve been found out/So now I’ll never explore”), the under-3-minute run time- or maybe all of those things combined- makes the song such a favorite of mine.  Also worth noting is the remix by electronica DJ/artist, Nosaj Thing, who takes the song and mixes it with even more synthesizers and a hip-hop beat, just making a great song even better.

Heart Skipped a Beat is an upbeat, bouncy track with a pulsating beat that alternates between being something you’d want to dance to in a club, to something you’d want to just sit back and listen to in the middle of smoke-hazed bar.  Fantasy has a dreamy sort of quality to it, mainly due to the echoey effect used on Sim’s vocals for the majority of the song.  I’m not sure if I’m revealing too much about my life during my early 20’s, but this song reminds me a lot of how you feel right before you fall asleep after drinking too much.

The xx Dec. 2 09

Shelter is my second favorite song on the album.  Croft sings this song alone, and her strong voice conveys the emotion of the song perfectly as she purrs, “Maybe I had said something that was wrong, can I make it better with the lights turned on?” during the chorus.  The stripped back production (mostly just made up of electric guitar) gives more room to focus on her quiet lamentations (“I still want to drown, whenever you leave/Please teach me gently, how to breathe/And I’ll cross oceans, like never before/So you can feel the way I feel it too”).

The album sort of tapers off at this point- not because any of the songs aren’t good, but mostly because they aren’t incredibly impressive or memorable, particularly compared to some of the earlier stand-outs on the album.  Basic Space is a fun, electronica track that’s about as “danceable” as this album gets; Sim and Croft seem to be having fun as they trade off the verses, and the result is an upbeat and cheerful number.  Infinity is mostly subdued until the chorus, when clashing symbols burst in, giving the song some excitement.  Though the rest of the track is pretty laid back, it’s still likeable, good music.   The opening bars of Night Time sound similar to so many of the other melodies used on the album, so it’s easy to see why on first glance, the song doesn’t stand out on its own.  Again, it’s not until the chorus where the instrumentation and singing speed up a bit and give the song some much-needed pazazz.

The CD ends with Stars, a sexy mid-tempo ballad.  I recently saw this song described on songmeanings.net as sounding the way “sex feels when you’re in love”.  The sentence made me laugh, but hearing this track again with that description in mind is oddly appropriate.  Croft and Sim’s vocals blend together seamlessly, creating a smooth, sensual sound.  The melody is minimal, and what there is of it blends in and out with the singing, leaving most of the attention to the vocals and the flirtatious lyrics (“If you want me/Let me know/Where do you wanna go/No need for talking/I already know/If you want me/Why go”).  The seductive track is a perfect end to the album, as Croft and Sim’s vocals quietly fade out together.

The xx did a brilliant thing with their debut album; the combination of the male and female lead vocalists with the electric instruments and stylized backing music makes for an excellent indie pop album.  It’s the perfect disc to just sit down and listen to, or even turn into the background music for your own memories.

Track Listing
1. Intro
2. Vcr
3. Crystalized
4. Islands
5. Heart Skipped a Beat
6. Fantasy
7. Shelter
8. Basic Space
9. Infinity
10. Night Time
11. Stars

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gI2eO_mNM88]

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