The XX – xx

Electronic music just gets louder and louder. It’s as if nothing with synths can garner any attention unless it’s got a she-wolf with a bob-haircut shrieking at a legion of MDMA casualties, next to a hooded dark horse playing a Nintendo soundboard. (Much as I like you Crystal Castles, you know I’m talking about you; their live shows are all mental and no brains.) Another musical revolution starts here. The pigeonhole resistant XX are one of the most refreshing bands of recent years. The set-up is pretty standard: keyboards, guitar, bass, drum machine, boy/girl vocals; while so many bands have taken this formula and made a joyful racket, The XX strip everything back to its basic forms. The band waste no time and don’t indulge in unnecessary flourishes; all the melodies are simple, but extremely effective. The instruments themselves sound like they were recorded in a cold stone room, but there’s still a certain warmth about them; it’s simultaneously comfortable and eerie. The singers’ voices are curiously blank, as if caught in emotional limbo; this makes them sound even more interesting, since you never really know what the people in the songs are feeling. Plus the songs themselves are just great. While they’re never particularly happy, the album is a road map for the grey area between content and quietly distraught; even so, it all remains extremely listenable and enjoyable.

One of the most original debuts for quite a while, The XX have made a sound of their own. Here, guitars barely sound like they should be guitars at all, since they’re used in such a unique way; there’s hardly a drum break in sight; the vocals sound exhausted, yet still this is one of the most interesting and unique records to bear the tag of “electronica” – a label that never suited it in the first place. Plus it’s worth mentioning that the cover’s a winner: instantly iconic, simple but effective – just like the music inside.

Key track: Crystalised
Listen to this: Walking through some grey, sparsely populated town.

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