The finest debut album of 2009
One of the more accurate musical predictions of the past eighteen months was that the sparkly retro glamour of recent years would give way to a more introverted breed of shoe gazing hipsters.
What no one saw coming, however, was that the new kids would take a far more confident and far less faddish approach than the recent crop of faux popsters.
A perfect example is the arrival of The XX, a morose looking bunch of 20 year olds from South West London who have created what must surely be the finest debut of 2009.
XX is an astonishingly accomplished release which sounds like it could have popped out during any one of the past three decades but remains very much music for right now. Much has been made of the fact that The XX attended the Elliot School, also attended by Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet but theirs is a much more intuitive approach than that of their fellow alumni.
When you first put this album on you could be forgiven for thinking you had fallen into yet another knowing nod to the past (a sort of Joy Division/Portishead identikit) but stick with it and there are some real surprises in store. A longing, yes, but a longing fuelled by breathless anticipation, not despair; a detachment, yes, but a detachment fuelled by individualism, not disaffection.
In fact, for all their moody posing, The XX are gently upbeat – a bit like walking in soft rain, feeling slightly sad but strangely optimistic.
The album is lyrically driven by the push and pull of young love. It is intimate, delicate and damned sexy. In guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim (just friends apparently), they have one of the most tender double acts to emerge for years. This is not the sexy swagger of the cuties at the club but the whispered erotic intensity of introverted kids in their bedrooms.
Their voices seem to wrap around each other in a hazy drowsiness that suggests they are in no rush. The final track, Stars, draws to a close with But if stars shouldn’t shine / By the very first time / Then dear, it’s fine, so fine by me ‘Cause we can give it time, so much time / With me’.
Musically the biggest surprise comes from the album’s resolutely unironic homage to R&B. On ‘Crystallised’, the album’s finest track and ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’ you can hear mainstream beats stripped back to a simple electric pulse and bass line chords.
Indeed the band do a remarkable cover of Womack and Womack’s 1988 hit ‘Teardrops’, which, while not on the album, can be heard here.
At a time when the life expectancy of UK indie bands seems to be getting ever shorter, The XX seem to be in no rush. Their mix of painful shyness and quiet musical conviction has won them a passionate following early in their career.
It’s easy to see why. This is a band that people will fall in love with and this is an album that you will quickly work its way onto your ‘most played’ list. That such an authentic, charismatic and fully formed release could have sprung from a bunch of teenagers and an electric drum machine is testament to the unpredictable beauty of rock and roll.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
Australia. Where you die for your country and get a rest area named after you http://t.co/hO6LpfwDvI
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…