When a young friend first introduced me to The xx via a YouTube video of "Crystalised," I was both intrigued and underwhelmed. Intrigued because their arctic minimalism recalled the earliest post-punk tunes of my favorite band, The Cure, but underwhelmed because the vocals too gratingly mimicked R&B singers like Beyonce. Granted, I do enjoy a song or two by Beyonce and other modern-day R&Bers, but I am not wholly enamored of that all-too-ubiquitous American Idol singing style.
But anyway, I began exploring the band a bit more despite these misgivings, and after a while the whispery wistful crooning duet of Romy and Oliver began to stealthily insinuate itself into my psyche. And I started to think that it was a beautifully brilliant synthesis of two polar styles - one warm, inviting and poppy, the other frigid, alienating and a bit underground. The icy guitar sculptures and morose bass lines, anchored by a chill house-beat and caressed by hushed lush vocals…well, it's a masterful marriage of 80s, 90s, and 2000s sonics.
And The xx, still in its infancy, has already been evolving their signature groundbreaking sound. The debut album featured a staunchly post-punk vibe, while the second album, Coexist, screams Sade (can anything really "scream" Sade, arguably the mellowest musician this side of Stonerville? Is "screaming Sade" the oxymoron of the millennium?) and gently toys with trip-hop stylings. Band DJ Jamie x, in fact, who produces The xx albums, has become a rather coveted producer among rap, hip hop and R&B musicians.
Live is where the band shimmers and sends shivers. The show is as unembellished as the music, and yet it is a subtly calculated, quietly explosive sensory experience, where light and sound converge in stark interplay. The DJ element infuses an idiosyncratic character into the shows, and the alternating vocals of Romy and Oliver, coupled with her intense reserve and his swaying swoons, add a sensual dimension that is deliriously palpable.
The xx is one of the more original bands to emerge in quite a while, and their deliberately distinctive sound which skillfully bridges modern pop sensibilities with nostalgic echoes of a post-punk past enables the band's crossover appeal while they brashly blaze through genre barriers. The xx has cystalized music into its purest form, and then existentailized it in modern music's fight against nothingness and historical irrelevance.