An unravelling conversation of prolonged melancholic optimism
Huw Jones

17:24 5th August 2009

‘XX’ by The XX is proof that you don’t have to scream and shout or fake fickle allegiance to fleeting fashion in order to produce an epic, interesting and conclusive portfolio of challenging pop.

A credible contender for debut of the year, theirs is an unravelling conversation of prolonged melancholic optimism where ifs, buts and maybes keep out the cold by leaving lament at the door. Picking and plucking their way through a bare and affecting soundscape the minimal instrumentation, a refined mix of beats, samples, textured bass lines and encompassing guitars, provides an admission of grandiose honesty to which music doubles as drug and remedy.

Uncomfortable, relaxing, innocent and vulnerable, the blurred relationship of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s (friends since the age of two) shared vocals creates a joined separation of thought and feeling, past and present. Overstated or understated empathy can risk believability, but the whispered slur of ‘VCR’ and overlapped double lyric of ‘Crystalised’ creates tactile fluency, a fluency that despite initial input from Diplo, Kwes, and Lexxx belies the production skills of the The XX’s in house beat-maker Jamie Smith.

It also belies their age, (19), place of origin and current location (South London) and the fact that this eleven-track offering wasn’t written with pathological intent, but coalesced over a three-year period of democratic singularity.

Combining creeping dynamism and low-key urgency an exchange of ideas comprised of two distinct elements emerges from ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’ while the shivering fragility of ‘Shelter’ suggests the dominated submission of a protagonist tired of fighting the unfightable.

With the short sharp pin drop space of musical execution as genuine as the tailgating lyrical delivery the oxymoronic dichotomy of ‘Night Time’, immediately irresistible, captivating and vividly thought provoking, is simply astonishing and when coupled with the album ending ‘Stars’, with its appropriate twinkle of piano set against a dark curtain of stalking bass, the perfection of intimacies is faultlessly complete.

Some debuts command, others deserve, but with ‘XX’ marking the spot The XX command and deserve, unlike anything else this year, with confident ease.

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