The XX are not blazing new musical or lyrical paths. When you first hear their debut record, “XX”, it does not immediately jump out and grab your attention and shake you into realization that this is a great record. It does not do it, not because of some failure of these South-Londoners but because that is not the intention. You will not find any party tracks here that will be played ad nauseam for a couple months until the drunken and drugged out kids grow tired of it’s once novel hook. However, this all does not mean that “XX” is a mediocre record. Quite the opposite. Even though it songs tell tales of longing, deceit, and other common lost love subject matter, these four (now three) really young musicians manage to pull off a record usually crafted after numerous releases.
Yes, the members for the band (Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, Jamie Smith, and formerly Baria Qureshi) are quite young but within the eleven tracks presented here we get an unspoiled unsought to a damaged relationship as it goes from barely getting on to downright destructive and finally to acceptance of each other. The two singers routinely travel the songs with a call and response that grounds the narrative of the record. They hardly ever sing above a calm whisper and Oliver’s voice isn’t always the perfect compliment to Romy’s but it works in a way that let’s the listener truly believe these are feelings and experiences they’ve lived through and are currently going through and not just something they thought would be cool to write a song or two about.
The instrumentation is fairly stripped down, consisting mainly of a drum machine, bass, two guitars and a keyboard sprinkled throughout but it really is this stripped back feel that gives the record it’s quality since the tracks are not hidden behind layers of production. You hear Romy’s quavering vocal take as she keeps repeating in “Shelter”, “Maybe I said something that was wrong, Can I make it better with the lights turned on.” When a song ends mid-bar and a guitar note is left hanging as in “Infinity” you notice.
The record itself is definitely a “headphone” record, something to put on and enjoy through from beginning to end and hear how in it’s simplicity it accomplishes more than many other records that cover lack of talent with layers of instruments and effects. There is nothing wrong with placing layer upon layer of sounds if done with reason, but there is definitely something to be said about a band that can create something sound grand with the essentials.
This might not be a perfect record, keeping a very monotonous feel, similar stylings, beats per minute, and vocals throughout. But it somehow all works and creates one of the more intimate and “real” record narratives I’ve personally heard in a while. As has probably been said many times. If this is their debut, I am truly excited for a fantastic career to come.