CD: Pop review: The XX, XX

(Young Turks)

The XX, four young, sullen-faced youths dressed in black, have that alluring band-as-a-gang aura about them. They spent their youth at south-west London's Elliott School (fellow alumni: Four Tet, Burial and Hot Chip) obsessively tinkering with instruments in the music room before signing a deal and self-producing their album in their record company's back office.

At first glance, you'd expect them to make basement rock'n'roll songs serrated with guitar feedback, but they're more interesting than that. For starters, they're fronted by a boy/girl combo - Romy Madley Croft (guitar) and Oliver Sim (bass) - whose interplay lends their debut an intimate tension. Along with bandmates Baria Qureshi (keyboards/guitar) and Jamie Smith (programming/samples), Croft and Sim craft languid, sparsely arranged love songs that recall atmospheric 80s acts such as the Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star. Better still, they betray their south London roots: gentle, plaintive melodies are framed by minimal beats that nod to dubstep and R&B.

On paper, it's a mongrel mix. As the languorous swirl of Intro fades in, however, you immediately sense you're listening to something seductively special. When Croft and Sim start singing, on VCR, they come across as being in an advanced state of fatigue. Standout tracks such as Crystalised, with its off-key riff, possess a very modern sense of anxious turmoil, while Shelter mixes spare, dolorous guitar lines with a restless chorus. It's an album to play when you're wallowing in a comedown and slow-paced melancholy offers a strange comfort.

There is a lightness of touch at play that gives the XX a sophistication beyond their years. It probably means that their dream pop will become the ubiquitous dinner party album du jour. But really, their panicky atmospherics are too strange for that. This is uneasy listening to soundtrack the gentle gnashing of teeth.


Sarah Boden

The GuardianTramp

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