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The xx utilizes lyrical chemistry, simplicity to show sophistication

September 8, 2009

This story is from September 8, 2009, edition of The Post, Ohio University’s student newspaper. At the time, I was working as a copy editor and music reviewer.

On the song “VCR” off The xx’s debut album xx, Oliver Sim (vocals/bass) and Romy Croft (vocals/lead guitar) sing, “You just know, you just do.” That feeling can easily express the maturity and sophistication of their band’s sound as soon as Sim starts strumming his bass or Jamie Smith’s (beat/production) beats hit.

A lot of the music off the album was written in the deep hours of the night, as Sim and Croft have both said that they are most creative in the hours when there is nobody else awake to bother them.

It is appropriate, then, that this album takes advantage of empty sound better than any other band in recent memory, giving the haunting lyrics and sparse instrumentals room to take hold in the listener’s ear.

The xx started as a band when all of the members were 15 years old, but Croft and Sim have known each other since they were 3 and have known Smith and Baria Qureshi (guitar/keyboard) since they were all 11.

Croft and Sim, who write their own lyrics apart from one another and then combine them over iChat, claim the songs are not about each other. Despite this claim, however, the two singers possess the kind of chemistry that only couples and people who have known each other for seemingly absurd amounts of time can have.

The quartet went to the same London high school as notable British acts Burial, Four Tet and Hot Chip and, despite not knowing any members of those other bands, The xx seem to have been influenced in some way by each of them as well as The Kills and R&B acts like the late Aaliyah, whom they often cover.

The influence of The Kills, which also has a female singer and play without a drummer, is perhaps best reflected in the song “Crystalised,” as the instruments hush except for Sim’s soft strumming of his bass and a slow beat in the background.

Meanwhile, the two singers engage one another in a lyrical conversation about mutual fear of love, stopping only long enough to join each other in the elegantly simple chorus.

It is this simplicity, the instinct to know that an extra chord or the inclination to make hyper noise just for the sake of doing so can ruin a song, that sets The xx apart and above much of today’s new music.

Artist: The xx
Label: XL Records
Summary: “This album takes advantage of empty sound better than any other band in recent memory.”
Stars: 4/5


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