Wednesday, 13 October 2010
The sad fate of the album XX is that it will end up being blogged about by middle aged men (worse still, blogged about by priests, which must be the kiss of death to anything cool and stylish). Unfortunately, XX is going to go the same way as every Portishead and Massive Attack album - the way of the middle class, hip dinner party and the television advertisement. This is a shame because around the addictive dubstep melodies and riffs the XX have crafted a musical landscape that echoes with dystopian menace and the heartbreak you find whimpering in council estate stair wells on a Saturday night.
The XX are four youths from South London dressed in black and looking as if they haven’t had a hearty meal for some time. A boy/girl duo – Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims – are the lead singers and their vocal interplay, all hushed intensity and jagged intimacy, veneer their lovesongs with an urban vulnerability. Supported by Baria Qureshi (keyboards/guitar) and Jamie Smith (programming/samples), the XX have created a critically acclaimed debut album that has just recently won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
As the musical interlude, Intro, fades, the listener is drawn into the seductive, languid spaces of XX - a bedsit, youth squat land for damaged hearts. Synth beats and smoky soundscapes give more than a respectful nod to the 80’s band the Cocteau Twins but this aural expansiveness is hooked to lyrics that dissect at the nuclear level the autistic anxieties and tics of contemporary relationships. Big sounds and emotional longing are what make XX an interesting listen. These are songs that, in the words of the track VCR, “live half in the daytime/live half in the night”, that no man’s land where authentic love is hard to come by.
One of the standout tracks is Crystalised. Its helter-skelter, unpredictable riffs conjure up a bruised psychological state of self-mutiliating uncertainty. “You’ve applied the pressure/to have me crystalised./And you’ve got the faith/that I could bring paradise ./ I’ll forgive and forget/before I’m paralysed./ Do I have to keep up the pace/To keep you satisfied.” Reading the unspoken contradictions of a relationship takes on a forensic struggle. The pressure and pace inherent in a youthful relationship is also recognised to be destructive and paralysing. This song, like so many on the album, has an unsettling sensuality, the closeness of breath and the grinding of teeth.
Some critics have complained that by the end of the album, the songs have melted into one luxurious, indistinguishable blend. There is some truth in this but with an album that provides so many unexpected pleasures, this criticism feels petty and mean. XX is a perfect soundtrack to all the consolations and terrors that swirl around our search for love. Let's hope it does not end up at too many dinner parties or on too many grandad blogs.
XX, The XX (Young Turks, Rough Trade Records, 2009)