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xx: Album of the Decade
by Ben Niesen
If this album makes you want to turn the lights off and sleep, that's because xx wants to woo you to sleep.
Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, Baria Qureshi and Jamie Smith are tired and heartbroken with a guitar, a bass, a keyboard and a drum machine. They stay low-key, happiness is merely a flutter in the heart.
The album starts by building a story via vignettes of a couple, culminating in the song "Islands."
With the hooky guitars of Croft, a simple tapping beat from Smith and a story of love found, the xx keep it simple for the heart to fall in love. Islands showcases the rock-solid rhythm which spans across the album.
There's no overstatement, no embellishment, but those vocals.
Wait, give me a moment here.
Hot damn, those vocals.
But just when you want to dance, the xx switch gears with "Heart Skipped A Beat." The beat stutters, mimicking the painful experience of a conversation with an ex-I-never-had.
"It's been a while/ And you've found someone better/ But I've been waiting too long to give this up/ The more I see, I understand/ But sometimes, I still need you/ Sometimes I still need you.”
Yeah, the duet between Croft and Sim sounds soft spoken. But the sentences swing sledgehammers.
It's like the two vocalists start a bedside conversation that quickly devolves to fighting and after every song, one wakes up and glares at the other. Cuts pulsate with words unspoken and things left unsaid.
xx quite honestly is my album of the 2000's. A succinct offering of alternative rock wrapped up in electropop threads, this album is a contradiction in all it's forms:
It's minimalist but indulgent, it wants to cry but it will make you dance, it's elegant but all about the socially awkward.
And most importantly, it's soft, but it hurts.