xx – xx (Young Turks)

When xx first came on the scene they didn’t sound like my sort of band at all. Terms like ‘soul’ and ‘R&B’ were bandied about, and while I don’t mind certain songs in those genres they are not my favourites. Consequently I did not hear anything from them for quite a while, and then when I did it was such a surprise that I got the album straight away. I can’t really see where the soul and R&B tags came from, as to me this is a collection of great indie pop songs, thoroughly modern and strangely addictive. ‘Intro’ is a short instrumental which introduces the sound of the band, with a flowing guitar sound over thudding drums and some wordless vocals chiming over the ending - pure indie guitar rock, and heralding the first proper song, ‘VCR’. The pace is much slower, and introduces Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s dual vocal style of trading verses within the song on this emotive ballad. ‘Crystalised’ is also stripped right back, with a Young Marble Giants-like guitar sometimes being the only instrument heard, while at others the whole band is in evidence to make it a full blown rock song. ‘Islands’ ups the pace but still keeps the low-key vocals to make a song full of intrigue and overt sexuality. On ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’ I can hear a Timbaland influence in the beats, but the overall feel is still indie-pop, and their cover of Aaliyah’s ‘Hot Like Fire’ is a sparse, minimal take on the song (which, incidentally, you only get if you buy the vinyl version). ‘Fantasy’ is a total departure from previous tracks, starting out with some atmospheric effects and muffled vocals, then the guitar comes in for an instrumental break (I would hesitate to call it a solo), and before you know it the song is over. ‘Shelter’ has another emotive vocal from Croft, and with the rhythm section pushing the song forward and the guitar used sparingly on some lovely fills, this is the most commercial that the band have sounded. The R&B influence is most apparent on ‘Basic Space’, with the hip hop beats gelling with the indie guitar to produce another beautiful song. ‘Infinity’ uses shock tactics with its sudden synth claps scattered throughout the song, all the more surprising as it is the loudest thing we have heard so far. ‘Stars’ once again has Croft and Sim trading vocal lines on one of the most up-tempo pieces on the record. I really didn’t know what to expect from this record, but its amalgam of Joy Division’s moodiness and Young Marble Giants’ minimalism has produced a great album. Every song is poignant and thought-provoking, and the lyrics are relevant to a modern audience struggling to cope in this difficult world. And while the music is sometimes minimalist almost to the point of non-existence, it suits these songs perfectly, giving them a charm that over-production would have ruined. This album was a very, very pleasant surprise, and to think that I almost passed on it because I believed the hype.
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