‘The xx’ bound to be one of the year’s best


About three months from now, magazines and Web sites will roll out their lists of the best albums of 2009 and “xx” should threaten for the top spot on more than a few of them. The xx is a group of four ambitious 20-year-old Londoners, but they play together
with a cohesiveness befitting of veteran songsmiths. “xx” is the band’s first release, and if it’s at all indicative of what’s to come, their future looks incendiary. You might as well get on the bandwagon now.

From the opening track it’s clear the xx is onto something special. “Intro” centers around a guitar line climbing and descending
through a hazy instrumental composition. The band’s production blurs the edges of every cut and blends perfectly with Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s sleepy cadences.

The most impressive thing about this music is how simple it is. The band eschews blazing licks for precise, clean, elementary
guitar parts that crawl their way through the measures. The rhythm section takes the same less-is-more approach, content to gild the songs rather than risk upstaging them. And the songs are the stars here. Madley Croft’s showcases are especially illuminating. Her voice – soft, weightless and exceedingly melodic – fits the material perfectly. “Shelter” marks her finest moment
as a vocalist. One of the album’s barest tracks, “Shelter” is four and a half minutes of Madley Croft’s voice and not much else. She carries it well.

The cloying male-female call and response wears a little thin at times, but songs like “Crystalised” justify the occasional precociousness. The album’s most radio-
friendly track, “Crystalised” sets the table with polyphonic guitars before turning things over to Sims and Madley Croft, who alternate between trading lines and sharing them. Their words function pretty much as placeholders, but the “ahh ahh” chorus is good enough that the lyrics don’t matter.

The xx follow a similar formula for most of the songs on the album, and if nothing else, can compare to “Crystalised,” “Basic Space” and “Heart Skipped a Beat.” “Night Time” and “Stars” bring things to a conclusion, sounding every bit as calming and reflective as their titles suggest. The latter is especially strong as a docile closer in the tradition of the Beatles’ “Good Night” or Weezer’s “Butterfly.”

Young bands aren’t supposed to sound this good this soon. Barely out of their teens, The xx has set the bar extremely high for themselves and following up their debut will not be easy. But those are concerns for another day. For now we can be content to appreciate “xx” on its own terms: as one of the year’s best releases.