As musical concepts go, it’s not one of the most obvious. Take four teenagers from South London who make music inspired by the low key musings of Galaxie 500, Young Marble Giants and early Cure records. So far so good, so reasonably standard. What really makes you sit up and take notice is their professed love for all things R n’B, from Aaliyah to Womack & Womack. On paper it should either be amazing or a total disaster. Anyone taking note of the music press since January, however, will have realised that the general consensus is that The XX are the former. After months of speculation and conjecture, the time has come for their debut album to prove their mettle.
XX is, unequivocally, a fantastic record. What could have been – even should have been – a musical match made in hell in reality makes complete sense. They had us at the opening two minutes odd of ‘Intro’, the minimal guitar riffs sliding into a basic drum machine pattern that nevertheless gets your head nodding like you’re in an R Kelly video. The world of modern black music has become increasingly attractive to white indie and rock musicians of late (Guillemots, Chris Cornell, even Guns N’ Roses) but none have managed to channel it so successfully as this. The fact that the band went to the same school as Burial, Hot Chip, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden might have something to do with their unique approach.
Not that this is a record full of staccato beats and booming bass lines. Produced by the band themselves after they decided NOT to take up the offer of working with producers such as Diplo and Kwes (now, there’s confidence), there’s a huge amount of space here with everything paired down to the bare minimum. That especially goes for the duel vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, who serenade each other throughout the record in breathless, almost lethargic tones yet still create an atmosphere and an, almost sexual, tension.
Early single ‘Crystalised’ is clearly the best thing on offer here, the track that sets the template for the rest of the album. That they basically repeat the same trick a further ten times is a risky strategy but one that they largely manage to make work. A feeling of claustrophobia does start to creep in by the end but you suspect that this is entirely planned, as the four consistently resist the temptation to move out of the lower gears – leaving that to the numerous remixes that will undoubtedly follow. The XX are a one trick pony for sure and, on the couple of shows we witnessed in London earlier this month, a long way short of the finished article live but in XX they have created a debut that is surely set to be both one of the year’s most anticipated and also its best.