The xx, XX

Peter Shapiro

By Peter Shapiro

on 06.15.11 in Reviews

A group of former students from the same London school that produced Fridge and Four Tet's Kieran Hebden, Hot Chip and Burial, the xx make diffident-but-widescreen guitar pop that recalls both Young Marble Giants and Mazzy Star if they weren't so afraid of modern technology. Although The xx is a quartet, their debut album XX often sounds like a boudoir conversation between the group's two principals, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. The two have been friends since they were toddlers; as the songs' star-crossed lovers, they drowsily pour their souls out to each other in late-night desperation.

A drowsy, dubstep-influenced soundtrack to late-night desperation

While Croft certainly has predecessors in bluesy, emotionally frayed female vocalists, Sim is probably the first indie singer to be so obviously influenced by Tricky, and to attempt to bring his mumbling-into-your-chest vocal style into a different context. Occasionally, too, The xx take their rhythmic cues from the dubstep that permeates the South London atmosphere like diesel exhaust: "Basic Space" features little stutter beats that undercut the jazzy guitar figures; "Infinity" has echoes of a stepper's reggae riddim; while "Fantasy" is permeated by a sickly, paranoiac, beatless sub-bass fog that is reminiscent of their old schoolmate Burial. Indeed, throughout the album there are little touches (eerie synth washes, handclaps, off-key riffs) that prevent XX from devolving into tasteful, rainy-day coffee-shop wallpaper melancholia, no matter how often the guitar wants to sound like it wandered out of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game."