Little is known about London foursome the XX. They are (deliberately, at a guess) difficult to search for online, and they don’t seem to have given many interviews. But I have discovered that the brains behind the project, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Smith, shares my name. So that’s a good start. We have something in common already.
I can tell you, however, that they’ve made the finest British debut album of the year, a hugely accomplished collection of songs that puts them right at the forefront of what constitutes boundary-pushing.
The eponymous release is simply staggering; with most of the songs jaw-droppingly good. I’m not exaggerating. It’s simply superb. Let me try and explain why.
They’re basically the anti-Horrors, which is probably why I love them so much. Whereas the Southend scenesters lavished pointless layers of noise all over average garage-rock tunes for their bafflingly critically-acclaimed sophomore album Primary Colours, the XX are the sparsest, most publicity-shy band I’ve heard all year.
Two instruments are usually more than enough, with the sumptuous vocals of girl-boy pair Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim dominating proceedings on top of swirly, whirly soundscapes that make you wonder how the band aren’t Icelandic. It’s frost-bitingly cool. My ears are tingling writing this as I listen.
The standout track and centrepiece of the album is Shelter, a stunningly basic track that slowly builds up to epic levels, without blundering around with multiple guitar lines or overblown hooks. Croft almost strays into aping Metric’s Emily Haines on the vocals but she retains enough of her own charm to avoid being a complete rip-off. Croft’s vocals also sound a little similar to the breathy Sarah Nixey of Black Box Recorder.
Basic Space has had fans foaming at the mouth with its Vampire Weekend-ish African clave rhythm but in reality it doesn’t properly reflect the magnificence of this band. There are more than enough ideas in the XX to last most bands a lifetime. They could do literally anything after this. The world is theirs for the taking.If we still gave ratings for albums, this would be a ten, easily. It’s really that good. It’s so exciting, I need to go for a lie down. Wow.
This review was written for The Music Magazine.