Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The xx - xx

Release Date: March 30, 2009

★★★★★ Tracks:




Basic Space

It must be difficult to review an album for a popular publication. Not only are critics bound to write plenty of polarizing opinions, but they must often rush to judgement quickly, assuring their review is read near the time a record is released. The problem is that some albums take time to marinate, while others reveal they aren't nearly as good as we first thought they were. Rolling Stone reviewed Nirvana's Nevermind with mild interest at the time of its release, but added it to their top 20 albums of all time a decade later, a rather large change in opinion. Then on the other hand we have something like Bloc Party's Silent Alarm, which was praised by most critics in 2005, but does anybody really care about it anymore?

It will be interesting to see where the xx ends up. In the short term, catchy tunes alongside vast critical appraisal, especially that of Pitchfork's, have helped them in gaining a quick and large following -- selling out venues on their American tour, and even scoring a 2010 Winter Olympics commercial. But will it be something we'll continue to listen to a decade later? I think so. I played xx to death in the last half of 2009, loving almost every song on it. I shelved it for a few months but after re-listening I can say it still sounds as fresh as it did when I first heard it. The xx borrow elements from so many genres; composing a minimalistic and atmospheric mix of pop, rock and electro that's great for the morning commutes, as well as the late nights in the bedroom. From the opening "Intro," now a jingle to an AT&T commercial featuring Apolo Ohno, I was immediately hooked. It sounds dark and mysterious, building up to an infectious, head-nodding beat accompanied by a sleek guitar hook.

The "Intro" is followed by four incredibly strong tracks, a couple of which are unquestionably heard at the dance club, before reaching what sounds like it could be the score for a science fiction film in "Fantasy." And that's one of the things I love about xx, is that it can sound so otherworldly. My favorite track is "Basic Space," which exemplifies how the band's excellent arrangements combine whispered girl/guy vocals and sparse instrumentation to create a sound that's both intimate and spacious.

I'm pretty sure xx is something I will be listening to for years to come. I simply don't have anything on my mp3 player that sounds quite like them. One could argue that there isn't much variety from track to track, but for an album's worth of songs it doesn't suffer from tedium. It could be a problem when they begin writing a second album, but that's a discussion for another time. For now, the xx have created a nearly flawless record. That's something very few have been able to accomplish, and all the more impressive when considering this is the xx's very first attempt.

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