There’s something undeniably refreshing about a group of 20-year-olds writing and self-producing one of the best albums of 2009. I’m referring here to The xx, a dream pop foursome out of South London — who originally met at Elliott School, notable for alumni including Hot Chip and Burial — whose self-titled debut is a surprisingly mature collection of love ballads, mostly about sex. Drawing from a range of influences including modern R&B and New Wave pop rock, the UK band has an eclectic yet engrossing sound, reminiscent of Joy Division or Radiohead, and stands out most for its abstract and (successfully) minimalist presentation.
Singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft is perhaps the group’s defining figure. Her gentle, yet pleasantly listenable, voice articulates troubled, interpersonal relationships punctuated by sparse, staccato guitar. On bass, Oliver Sim also provides the backing vocals on standout tracks like “Crystalised” and “Islands,” where he enigmatically chants of desire in a delicate, papery tone. These distinguished voices provide a sense of beautiful friction to the album, suggesting that perhaps Croft and Sim are actually singing to one another (although this is speculative). In “Basic Space,” particularly, the two engage in an elegant back-and-forth, reciting “I can’t let it out/I still let you in” over the crackling beat.
Drums and keyboard are handled by Jamie Smith and Baria Qureshi (although the latter recently left the group), who add polish with their expertly timed finishing touches. On “VCR,” for example, the quaint xylophone melody tells the story of a lonely night brightened by the company of another.
While most other young bands drown in kitschy metaphor and overly ambitious instrumentals, The xx emerge as a bold — and modernised — example of the powers of simplistic pop. Any fan of transcendent artwork in general should give The xx a look; if not for the love of the genre, then surely for an uplifting experience in love and life.