Monday, January 4, 2010

Knocked Out by The xx

Is there an equivalent of air guitar for great production? If not, what is their weird urge to turn knobs, balance tones and make a record as brilliant as this one when I play the debut by London's The xx? It's my favorite record of '09 that didn't end up on Spin's Top 40 list.

While the album -- just called "xx" --  has been a huge critical hit in the UK (the NME review here), it's still undersung in the US, where the album did not crack the top 100. Part of this, I think, is because the band is deeply rooted in English styles that never quite hit on our shores: These four south London lads and lasses -- who met at the high school once attended by Hot Chip -- recorded the record primarily at night, drawing from elements like the shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine, the trip hop of Massive Attack and Portishead, and the dryly funk-derived rhythm section style pioneered by post-punk (and especially Joy Division.) It all adds up to something fresh, brooding and dangerous.

Here is one of the album's best cuts, "Islands." The UK hit is "Crystalised," here. Though, it's the kind of atmospheric record -- with hauntingly intimate male/female vocals -- that really needs to be heard from first note to last.

As several critics have observed, though the members were barely out of their teens while recording "xx," it sounds like the work of an older and more seasoned group hitting a mid-career stride. (I first heard of the group when Robt Christgau discussed them on NPR.) Excited to hear what this band -- who have apparently lost one member so far --- comes up with next.

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