Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22: The XX, "The XX"

Artist: The XX
Album: The XX
Year: 2009
Label:   Young Turks

Ever since the beginning of the popular era of recorded music, performers have been constantly borrowing from specific musicians and styles to make their sound stand out from the rest as sonically unique.  While the blending of genres is never an easy task, when one of the styles being utilized is of an electronic nature, this tends to make the approach even more challenging.  Looking across recorded history, this seems to be due to the fact that in such an arrangement, the artist in question tends to lean too heavily on the electronic elements, and the final product ends up coming off as far less than was expected.  This reality is even more consistent when looking at newer and less experienced performers, as when attempting to blend genres, it can be seen that nothing serves a performer better than experience.  Yet there have been a handful of cases where these sounds have been perfectly blended, though in nearly every case, they have come at the hands of musicians well into their established careers.  Then of course, there is the case of The XX.  The English group somehow managed to quickly prove themselves as one of the most brilliantly unique bands on the planet, as they found a distinctive blend of entrancing, ambient sounds and moods with a strangely pop-styled approach.  From the completely mesmerizing musical structures to the vocals that border on ethereal, there is simply no way the world of music could have been prepared for the masterful musical bliss that is The XX’s self-titled 2009 debut.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of The XX is the fact that the electronic influence is more implied than actually put forward within the music itself.  This fact instantly separates the group from not only their peers, but any sort of genre classification.  Each track as a fragile sonic structure that is only akin to the sounds of the ambient or "down beat" electronic schools, and yet there is never a question of their more traditional pop-rock approach in the more literal sense.  The core of this musical brilliance is largely due to the guitar from Romy Madley Croft, and if one were looking for a completely distinctive tone and approach, it is rarely more obvious in this case.  Whether they are softer, almost silenced notes being used as emphasis or dazzling progressions, Croft proves to be far more creative and talented than any similar artist.  Along with this, the bass from Oliver Sim gives the tracks on The XX a sway and groove that are again much in the same spirit as the ambient style.  Yet it is the way that his playing combines with the programmed drums of Jamie Smith that give the group a rhythmic allure that is completely unique.  Rounding out the group is guitarist and keyboardist Baria Qureshi, and this element proves to be one of the most important, as it gives a wider diversity to the songs on The XX.  It is the way that the musicians move as a single unique, digging deeper and deeper into the moods and grooves at every turn that allow the album to become so powerful and musically distinctive.

Working in stunning harmony with the music over which they sing, one would be hard pressed to find a more impressive and mesmerizing vocal pairing than that of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim.  Along with the stunning manner with which their voices harmonize, it is the actual delivery style that they each possess which allows these songs to become all the more powerful.  There are times when Croft needs to only whisper to properly convey the emotion of the words she sings, and yet the reality remains that when she gets a bit louder, the song seems to swell around her voice.  This works perfectly with Sim's almost detached vocal approach, and one cannot help but liken his style to that of some of the finest post-punk vocalists.  It is the way that the two sounds intertwine that serves as the ideal finishing touch to these songs, further separating the group from any stylistic classification.  Yet along with the way they sing, there is a pulse that runs throughout every musical phrasing on the entire record, stringing together the varied musical and vocal approaches into a superb, cohesive masterpiece.  This again seems to nod toward the world of electronic music, and yet it is in that previously mentioned sonic subtlety that shows the true vision and power within the inner-workings of The XX as a group.

The fact remains that even though it has only been out for a handful of years, the self-titled debut from The XX has already proven to be one the most uniquely stunning recordings of the past generation.  To this end, many of the songs have been used frequently within all forms of popular media, and been interpreted in a wide range of other styles.  Everyone from Gorillaz to Birdy to Shakira have recorded their own versions of songs found on The XX, and one can see a number of other bands that attempted to duplicate the sonic brilliance found all across this album.  But the reality is that no group before or since has been able to come close to the delicate blend of sounds and moods found on every moment of The XX, and it is the sort of record that somehow manages to remain just as fresh and exciting with every listening.  Whether it is due to the superbly complex, yet somehow subtle musical arrangements or the fantastically mellow, but completely engaging tempo, The XX is simply a peerless record in terms of the orchestrations.  At the same time, the duo of Croft and Sim on vocals only aids in making this record even more distinctive and extraordinary, as their vocals alone would have been enough to make the album beyond notable.  It is the combined sound of these superb vocalists and the exceptional music that is the key to the magic of The XX, and there has never been another musical experience on par with their magnificent 2009 self-titled debut.

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