Kids today, eh? Dressing up in black, being all miserable, recording in dank studios underneath railway arches, wasn’t like that in my day. Oh hold on, yes it bloody was. Maybe that’s why, when I first heard The Xx, I got one of those weird chills. The fact that they were half my age and lived round the corner from me made it doubly weird.
Because, unlike pretty much everyone else making music today on either side of the Atlantic, The Xx like space. Lots and lots of it. I haven’t heard a band make so much from silence since the glory days of Low (and before them, the gaps between the pummelling method of Swans). There’s gaps between the mordant drums and the guitar stabs that you could safely park a truck in. The delay settings on the guitarist’s pedals are set to “Yeah, repeat what I’ve played in about half an hour”. No Edge-style 96ms delay for this lot, I can tell you1.
But what gives me the chills the most is that this record sounds totally familiar, picking up influences from everyone from Young Marble Giants to New Order through to urban music like Grime and Dubstep, and sounds utterly, utterly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.
“Infinity” sounds like Chris Isaak2 got kidnapped by Burial and started getting Stockholm Syndrome. “Heart Skipped A Beat” features a doleful Peter Hook style bassline, like something from “Unknown Pleasures” or “Power, Corruption and Lies”. Other parts sound like some weird pirate radio staffed entirely by lonesome indie kids with an R&B fascination.
The lyrics, as you’d expect from a bunch of folk just out of their teens, are concerned with love. And not just any love, oh no – the desperate yearning of youth, all unspoken desire and thwarted emotions and the sheer heartache of being horribly, wonderfully in love. It takes me back to those days, long ago3 when a single word from the object of your desire could turn you into a quivering wreck. When you spent the whole day waiting for the phone to ring, or the whole night waiting for the touch of her hand to make everything ok. When every single cell of your body felt nothing other than the pangs of yearning. The whole record is shot through with the fug of pheromones. Kids, eh?
In case I’m not making this absolutely clear, the album is great. For a band to come out with something as different, as shot through with that pure teenage combination of total confidence and heart-stopping loneliness as you can imagine, on their first attempt, is stunning. I only hope that the success of this album doesn’t go to their heads. Maybe I’ll pop down the road and lock them in their studio so they can’t get out and hear all the nice things people are saying about them. Success will only cheer them up, and that just won’t do.
One more thing. What is it about the Elliott School in Putney that’s produced some of the most forward-looking music in Britain today? Utterly bizarre. Bless the English Comprehensive system and its lackadaisical attitude towards education.
1 Sorry, guitar geek talk. Carry on.
2 Speaking of which, quite a few reviews have pointed out the similarity, and generally done it in a negative way. All I can say is, get over yourselves – “Wicked Game” is a marvellous song.
3 So very, very long ago. Sniff.