Introducing Britain's The xx
The cover of "xx," the debut album of The xx.
UK’s electronic pop band The xx, composed of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, is set to perform at the NBC Tent tonight (July 30).
There are plenty of reasons to watch The xx, who is coming to Manila for the first time. Their self-titled debut won the Mercury Prize for album of the year in 2010, besting the likes of Paul Weller, Corinne Bailey Ray, and Mumford and Sons in the process.
Except for their infectious hooks and dance-friendly grooves, the 11 tracks on the album are modest compared to the blockbuster instrumentation and big-ticket themes of the competition. Even the vocal contributions of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft are hushed in contrast to the dynamic range of R&B divas, heavy metal screamers and pop-rockers. The CD cover itself is largely unremarkable when placed beside Parental Advisory festooned sleeves of hardcore rappers or the rotting corpses and zombies that stare out blankly on album covers of death-fixated hate bands.
Beneath the general tendency of The xx to embrace anonymity, the insistent presence of their original compositions grows large on you. Once exposed to tracks with simple titles like “Teardrops”, “Islands” and “Crystallise”, you won’t easily shake them off your head. Their hooks will haunt your waking hours and you’ll be humming fragments of their songs in your sleep.
The xx are auteurs poised on the indie side of the pop divide. Their debut’s musicality pulses with the obvious influences of shoegaze and dubstep, but there are also shades of ‘50s rock and roll, trip-hop and the melancholy adult pop of Karen Carpenter as well as Tracy Thorn. It’s more than a psychedelic head-trip. Critics call The xx sound “futuristic love croons.”
Released in 2010, xx the album topped the British albums chart and the Irish indie albums chart. It reached the Top 10 on the US indie albums chart and a Top 25 smash on the rock charts. The xx debut received critical acclaim, being rated among the Top 5 albums of 2010 by online sites and print publications around the world.
The hugely popular reception to their first album led to the equally massive anticipation for the follow-up album. Titled “Coexist”, the Brit band’s sophomore release was initially predicted to merely trim away the excesses of the debut for a more streamlined and cohesive The xx sonic trip.
The cover of The xx's second album, "Coexist."
Their second album was released in September 2012, and a run through the album reveals improved competence in their respective instruments. The basslines are more pronounced and the guitar parts are played better such that the nuance of the barely audible vocals sometimes loses its mystique. On the surface, The xx appears to dabble in ready-for-the-cub mix for the greater portion of their newest offering.
Opener “Angels” actually extends the minimalist tendencies of the first album to great effect. In between albums, Jamie worked with other producers on remix projects, and that experience along with live performance of the first batch of songs must have solidified the fascination with club music.
Still, dance beat and rhythms are subtly employed. What most of the tracks on “Coexist” unveil is the trio’s ability to improvise within their chosen micro-genre. They have expanded their sound while remaining consistent with the original minimalist vision. Tight playing and predictability are not on the tabs and they happily incorporate any sound that meet the futurist trajectory of their music.
Live in concert, The xx play clad in black. First-time audiences may mistake them for drone rock merchants or Black Sabbath devotees.
Brilliant without being noisy, The xx promises a devastating show this Tuesday evening, come hell or torrential rains.