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The xx is Next British Sensation to Woo the States

Patrick Griffin | Thursday, January 21, 2010

For a band whose American debut album was slated as one of the top-10 releases in 2009 by Rolling Stone magazine(in the Dec. 17 edition), British hipsters The xx surprisingly are not megastars in the states … yet. Consider yourself warned. The quartet is poised to permeate U.S. airwaves with their critically acclaimed self-titled album.
Named one of Spin Magazine’s top-ten bands to watch in 2010, The xx arrived on U.S. shores in late 2009 to great fanfare in the underground music scene. With the dawning of a New Year and decade, the band continued their systematic infiltration of the American music scene, while being praised avidly on National Public Radio. Currently, the band is touring internationally, and is already billed to play at this spring’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival.
The band’s sound is simplistic, yet unique. Featuring his and hers vocalists, a reverb-laden, staccatoed guitar, profound synthesizers and mod beats, “xx” creates a smoky room aura of musical coolness. Think equal parts Explosions in the Sky, Peter, Bjorn and John, and Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Games,” and you may loosely recreate The xx’s spacey style.
Interestingly, despite The xx’s creativity and uniqueness, the minimalism in their work is just as critical to their success as the stylistic techniques they employ. Their music sounds as if it was recorded in a great open hall. Each song sounds as if it cannot fill the virtual space of the track, yet this characteristic dramatically emphasizes the individual portions of the band’s personality.
Lead singer-bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist-vocalist Romy Madley Croft nonchalantly croon and mumble lyrics about romantic uncertainty, tumultuous relationships, and coming clean to significant others. In “Crystallized,” Sim groans “Things have gotten closer to the sun / and I’ve done things in small doses / so don’t think that I’m pushing you away / when you’re the one that I’ve kept closest.” Comparatively, in “Shelter,” Croft confesses, “I still want to drown whenever you leave / please teach me gently how to breathe.”
The interaction between Sim’s deep drone and Croft’s breathy utterances is, at times, like witnessing an exchange between embattled loved ones. Thus even in the simplicity of “xx,” each song can be interpreted as dramatic, realistic and personally telling.
For all of the musical effort put into “xx,” what stands out about the Brits’ debut is its simplicity. The xx do not overwhelm listeners with showy instrumentation or addicting vocals. Rather, The xx set a mood — one that is open to audience interpretation. Perhaps it is the band’s tendency to err on the side of minimalism that allows for spooky and mystifying atmospheres to be created in the music.
As an album, “xx” flows brilliantly from the introductory track to its eleventh and final song. The band maintains its spacey identity while producing a new characteristic in each track.  For a fresh and difficult-to-characterize sound from an emerging band, give “xx” a listen before it becomes England’s next big export.