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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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The xx: XX (Young Turks)


Upon first listen, the xx’s debut album—helpfully entitled XX—seems like a breath of fresh air. The London four-piece’s modest and unassuming sound comes as a welcome change from the narcissistic posturing of other artists, while their blend of understated, ethereal pop-rock lacks the brazen, ‘in-your-face’ attitude that almost seems to be par for the course with up-and-coming bands. However, it soon becomes obvious that the xx are rather a one-trick pony, although first single ‘Crystalised’ is beguiling, the album’s ten other tracks seem like nothing so much as alternative takes on it—and what’s more, inferior versions that are more or less indistinguishable from one another. What originally seemed atmospheric and moody comes across as something closer resembling apathy: ironically, XX would be vastly improved by some of that pizzazz and swagger that can be so wearisome in other musicians.

Less than a minute into the instrumental opening track, ‘Intro’ (the xx don’t waste their collective imagination on naming their songs, that’s for sure), the listener is introduced to the two main musical elements that constitute the band’s sound: a clean, reverberating electric guitar arpeggio, and a focus on percussion. In track two, ‘VCR’, the last weapon in the xx’s arsenal is revealed: the back-and-forth, conversational motion between the two vocalists, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. This is charming at first: the two sing to each other in their breathy, gentle voices as though they were lovers, alternating verses and coming together in choruses, but this loses its appeal after three or four songs that follow the same formula. Only ‘Islands’ and ‘Basic Space’ seem to break the mould, and even then, only marginally so—indeed, the Jamie T ‘Space Bass’ remix of the latter is infinitely more engaging than the original.

Disappointingly, XX is a dead-end street of an album that persistently hints at a climax that never comes. This is especially obvious on ‘Shelter’, which, after four and a half minutes of subtle (and by ‘subtle’, I mean ‘almost imperceptible’) increases in texture and energy, tails off in a listless fadeout, as though the xx lacked the energy to come up with a convincing conclusion to the song. In a way, though, it’s hard to end something that never really got started in the first place, and that sentiment applies to the album as a whole.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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