The xx - xx (Vinyl)

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xx is the debut album by English indie pop band the xx. It was released on 14 August 2009 by Young Turks, an imprint label of XL Recordings. After signing a record contract with XL, the xx recorded the album from December 2008 to February 2009 at the label's in-house studio in London. The audio engineer Rodaidh McDonald worked with the band during the recording sessions and attempted to reproduce the intimate, unembellished quality of their demos. The band's Jamie Smith produced xx on his laptop and created electronic beats for the songs, which he then mixed in a detailed process with McDonald.

Although the xx had been strongly influenced by R&B acts, the album also drew comparisons from critics to alternative rock, electronica and post-punk sounds. The melancholic songs on xx feature minimalist arrangements and are built around Smith's beats, Oliver Sim's basslines and sparse guitar figures played by Baria Qureshi and Romy Madley Croft, who employed reverb in her lead guitar parts. Most of the songs are sung as low-key duets by Croft and Sim, both of whom wrote emotional lyrics about love, intimacy, loss and desire.

The album received widespread acclaim from critics, many of whom named it one of the year's best records. It sold steadily over its first few years of release, becoming a sleeper hit in the United Kingdom and the United States. Although major media outlets had largely ignored the band at first, and none of its singles became hits, xx benefited commercially from the licensing of its songs to television programmes and the band's Mercury Prize win for the album in 2010.

At the behest of XL's owner Richard Russell, the xx recorded their debut album at the label's small, in-house recording studio – XL Studio – making them the first act to record there. It was once the head office building's rear garage before Russell transformed it at the beginning of 2008 into a makeshift writing, rehearsal and demo space for XL's artists. McDonald was assigned in September to manage and properly equip the room, which he liked because it was soundproof and "isolated from the rest of the office, so it wasn't like you were working in the record company's presence." Croft, on the other hand, called it a "pretty confined space" the size of a bathroom. Over the next few months, McDonald and Pawson prepared a budget for the label to fund the studio's preliminary setup, which would have recording equipment specifically suited for the xx, including a modestly sized soundboard ideal for recording a small group.

The songs on xx are composed around a framework of basslines and beats, while incorporating simple guitar riffs for melody, rhythm and texture; their melodic notes are separated by rests. Croft said the band's style of instrumentation became defined by the limited equipment they originally used: "My guitar sound pretty much came from discovering there was reverb on my little practice amp and really loving the mood it created."The loudest song, "Intro", is a largely instrumental recording with double-tracked beats, distorted keyboard, non-lexical vocables and a guitar riff. Songs such as "Crystalised" and "VCR" begin with a melodic ostinato and some understated sounds, including a xylophone on the latter, before leading to quietly sung verses. Croft and Sim exchange verses on "Crystalised" while backed by the sound of drum stick clicks and basslines before the beat is heard. On the austerely arranged "Night Time", Croft sings its first two minutes over only guitar and bass before its beat develops. "Fantasy" is highlighted by a shoegazing guitar sound.


I fell for this album at first listen.

I didn't even have to listen all the way through; I was hooked by the first spare atmospheric guitar pluckings on the unfortunately-titled "Intro." (I only complain because it seems like a dismissive title; the song is so much more than a mere lead-in to other things.) Granted, I was predisposed to like it; I'd been seduced from afar by the rave reviews, the sexy group name and album title--is anything sexier than an X? Yes, four Xs--and the cool mystique. But there's a lot of well-reviewed stuff that sounds good in the dim light of a first encounter but doesn't hold up to the morning's harsh judgment, and the harsher judgment of succeeding days.

This, on the other hand, turned out to be one of those albums that gets better and better as I get to know it; I listen to such albums and end up almost amazed that they didn't already exist somehow; there is something primal and right about them, something sonically equivalent to a tetris piece that materialized from nowhere and fell exactly into a deep hole inside me that I somehow hadn't noticed before.

Granted, this album works partly by evoking other great albums that have come before, all the masterpieces of shoegaze and dubstep and trip-hop; in some ways it succeeds more as culmination and synthesis than as departure. Still, it succeeds at both; it differentiates itself because it manages to be warm and cool at the same time, without being lukewarm. The music is spare and icy, a nighttime cityscape viewed through a high-rise window; the heat comes from the vocals, a male and female voice talking to each other at pillow distance or closer; they only want enough backdrop to set the mood, and no more, because they're doing their damndest to never leave the bedroom--or, better yet, the bed.

But--importantly--it isn't the sound of love, exactly. It is many things, but it is not quite that; it is desire and codependency and lust, and the fear of how much colder it will all feel when one or the other leaves. The words aren't just the lies one hears on the radio or whispered in one's ear; they're also the real things one hears in one's head and sees written across a lover's face while their lips are busy saying other things: "Sometimes I still need you" and "I think I'm losing where I end and you begin" and "I'm setting us into stone piece by piece before I'm alone" and so on, and so forth. ("I'm sure you heard it before," they sing on "Heart Skipped a Beat," and if you're anything like me, you have heard it before, or thought it, or said it, or lived it--or all of the above. And you soundtracked it to Portishead, or Burial, or Massive Attack, or My Bloody Valentine, or Slowdive--but not this, because, of course, it didn't exist yet.)

And yet it does deserve to exist, and so much more--to be a soundtrack of its own, to be noticed and obsessed over in its own right, for its own considerable strengths. The XX are bold enough to dispense with most of the drumming and thereby create something new and unique; they are bold enough, too, to keep in both the warm breath of smoky soul and whispered lies, and the cold backdrop outside--the distant city, and the realities one can't hold at bay forever.

Still, again, this is one of those albums that leaves you crazy when you try to leave it cold. Like all lovers, it reminds you of others, and like all the best, it has its flaws, and it somehow manages to be perfect and unique in spite of them, and maybe even because of them. If you're anything like me, you might come up with reasons not to like it, or to hold it at arm's length. (I told myself that the male vocals were too mumbly, and the female ones too breathy, and that the songs were too varied in quality, because they range from "Perfect" to "Really Great.") Eventually, though, you'll find yourself wondering, "When am I going to spend time with xx again?" and realizing you just got together yesterday, and thinking you still need another fix anyway. And--and this is the truest test--you will be willing to forsake time with your other loves (Sorry, Joanna Newsom!) to make it happen. Actions speak louder than words, and the play count tells me more about my feelings for this album than anything I can set down here.

By: Gerry Brennan

A1 Intro 2:08
A2 VCR 2:57
A3 Crystalised 3:22
A4 Islands 2:41
A5 Heart Skipped A Beat 4:02
A6 Hot Like Fire 3:34

B1 Fantasy 2:38
B2 Shelter 4:30
B3 Basic Space 3:08
B4 Infinity 5:13
B5 Night Time 3:37
B6 Stars

Art Direction – Phil Lee (5)
Bass – Oliver Sim
Design – Phil Lee (5), The XX
Engineer – Rodaidh McDonald
Guitar – Baria Qureshi, Romy Madley Croft
Keyboards – Baria Qureshi
Lyrics By – Oliver Sim (tracks: A1 to A5, B1, B3 to B6), Romy Madley Croft (tracks: A1 to A5, B2 to B6)
Mastered By – Nils*
Mixed By – Jamie Smith (4), Rodaidh McDonald
Music By – Baria Qureshi (tracks: A1 to A5, B1, B3 to B6), Jamie Smith (4) (tracks: A1 to A5, B1 to B6), Oliver Sim (tracks: A1 to A5, B1 to B6), Romy Madley Croft (tracks: A1 to A5, B1 to B6)
Photography By – The XX
Producer – Jamie Smith (4)
Programmed By [Beats And Mpc] – Jamie Smith (4)
Vocals – Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft
Comes in a die-cut cover with folded poster with lyrics insert.
Contains a card with a unique code for a free mp3 download of the album.

A6 is a vinyl album only bonus track.

Recorded at XL Studios, West London between December 2008 and April 2009.
Mixed at XL Studios between April 2009 and May 2009.
Mastered at The Exchange, Camden.

℗ 2009 Young Turks. © 2009 Young Turks.