Tag Archives: The XX

The XX ‘Coexist’ – Review

14 Sep

When Radiohead released ‘King of Limbs’, my inital reaction was ‘is this it?’ Not necersarily because what I was hearing wasn’t good enough, it was just surprising that after nearly four years away they came back with an eight track album that was only 35 minutes long.  It wasn’t that it felt insubstantial, but it did seem slight; the songs were short, the guitars were very much in the background and the arrangements were delicate and subtle. My gut feeling (and I wasn’t alone) was that ‘King of Limbs’ would be a teaser for something else. Something bigger. Maybe it was the first of many Radiohead releases that year. But as the weeks went by, and announcments evaded us, it became apparent that ‘King of Limbs’ was a stand-alone album and that would be it.

I mention all this because I had the exact same feeling the first time I heard ‘Angels’, the first single from The XX’s second album ‘Coexist’. The song is a beautiful ballad that features vocals, guitar, bass and a Phil Spector meets Burial beat that pops up only fleetingly over the song’s 2 and a half minutes. My gut reaction, again, was ‘is this it?’ and again, it wasn’t because ‘Angels’ was bad, in fact it’s one of the best songs they’ve ever made, but it felt so minimal, naked and (in the best possible sense) unimportant. What happened to the new dance orintated XX we were told so much about? I thought they had been listening to Chicago House and visiting raves? After Jamie’s recent production work outside the band we expected the production to be as cutting edge and as revolutionary as the debut’s but this didn’t sound it. ‘Angels’, I concluded, must be a red herring, or a teaser, there was no way that this could possibly be the first single proper.

Except it was. Not only that, but ‘Angels’ opens the album. In two and a half minutes The XX declare that they have no intention of doing what is expected of them, they have no intention of making dance music, they have no intention of ripping up the rule book. On this record they have taken the elements that made the debut so successful and they’ve fine tuned them and then stripped away what wasn’t strictly neccersariy. The beats take a back seat here. On the debut Jamie’s drum programming opened the most distinctive songs, ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’ and ‘Islands’, but here most songs open to the sound of a guiater, hushed vocals or even just haunting, almost empty, reverb. Only track 2 ‘Chained’ really takes you by the scruff of the neck from the off, the other songs take time to reveal their charms.

The cover is appropriate. It’s basicly the same as the cover to the debut, making it therefore as instantly recongnisable as the music (can you think of another band who have created such a unique and influential musical and visual identity after only one album? I can’t). On the cover, in the enlarged X that hogs the white background, acidic colour floats about in subtle but distinctive shades. Greens, blues, purples, reds that melt into each other. On the album these flashes of colour are represented by unique sounds that penetrate the overall mood of darkness and the everpresent reverb of the guitar and bass. But the colour is used sparingly, very sparingly; the strings on ‘Tides’, the organ on ‘Sunset’, the steel drums on ‘Reuinon’, the synth of tides, the warping effect on ‘Our Song’, the four to the floor beat on ‘Swept Away’. Each song has a special element that makes it stand out, but othewise these songs are all cut from the same cloth. Vocal melodies are made to sound very similar by Oliver and Romy’s distinctively moody but rather limited range. Guitar lines are simple and one sounds much the same as the other, the same goes for the bass. The beats are hip and very much up to date, except when they’re being playfully nostalgic, such as the classic house beat that draws so much attention to itself on ‘Swept Away’, or the almost toy like 808 sounds on ‘Fiction’.

Like the songs on the debut, the lyrics on ‘Coexist’ paint a picture of a broken heart that is in no danger of being fixed anytime soon. Here the emotions are even more exagerated and melodramatic. The themes are classic and well known and rather than shed new light on these old fashioned concerns, the group simply present them in a new context. Quoting lyrics here is pointless; on paper they will seen banal, simplistic and even clichéd. There is no inherent music in these words when they sit on a paper, but delivered by Oliver and Romy they are transformed into pure, heart-wrenching poetry.

I have so much respect for this band for staying true to their principles. It’s potentialy dangerous for a group to stay dormant for this long after an album, and there is the risk that in those wilderness years they will have lost their spark, fans will have lost interest or their influence will have waned (see Animal Collective). In fact, The XX’s influence and popularity have grown enormously over the past three years. Just listen to James Blake, Drake or even Rihanna and you will surely acknowledge that the band’s approach to space, silence and minimalism has had a huge impact on both obscure and mainstream pop. Their debut was sitting on shelves for months before people finally started to take notice, and it was a full year before it finally entered the top ten (after winning the Mercury Music prize). Their popularity is peaking right now and this week it looks like ‘Coexist’ will enter the charts at number one. It’s a well deserved victory for good music.

The XX have been one of the most influential bands of the last decade, but ‘Coexist’ reminds me that before all the hype and hyperbole it all started with an album, a very good album. The fear is that because ‘Coexist’ hasn’t redefined or changed anything it will be viewed as a failure or a cop out. It’s anything but. Simply, it’s another very good album that may lack the jaw drpping impact of the debut, but given time it may turn out to be even more of an understated triumph.

8.5/10

The XX ‘Intro’ – Sander Van Doorm Remix

9 Oct

There are no shortage of XX remixes out there, in fact there seem to be at least a couple of great ones for every song on the album, but this is the best I’ve heard in a while.

The XX Win The Mercury Prize

8 Sep

So as you probably know by now the Mercury Music Prize took place last night, and as I predicted a few months back (here) The XX won – a deserved win but hardly the most surprising victory in the history of the prize. Then again it’s probably best they didn’t try to surprise us again after the voters picked Speech Debelle last year – fail! Here is some news footage of the win

Mercury Prize Shortlist 2010

22 Jul

The Mercury prize shortlist has been revealed and it’s a predictably random collection of albums from the last twelve months. There are a few obvious choices (The XX, Wild Beasts, Dizzee Rascal, Mumford and Sons) and a few that might surprise you (Paul Weller, I Am Kloot, villagers). The XX should win in my opinion and I reckon they probably will – I’ve been right most years in the past (last year being a shocking exception!!) and I couldn’t think of it going to a more deserving band.

Here is a list of nominees and the odds

Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N’ Cheek (4/1)
The xx – xx (4/1)
Paul Weller – Wake Up the Nation (6/1)
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea (6/1)
Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More (6/1)
Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (6/1)
Foals – Total Life Forever (8/1)
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers (8/1)
Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions (8/1)
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal (10/1)
Kit Downes Trio – Golden (10/1)
I Am Kloot – Sky at Night (10/1)

Beach House ‘Teen Dream’ – Review

31 Jan

There have been some brilliant coming of age albums in recent years. My favourite would probably be M83’s fantastic ‘Saturdays = Youth’ but now it has a close competitor. ‘Teen Dream’ is Beach House’s third album and it plays with the themes of youth, regret and longing.

Beach House are on the same American and English labels as Fleet Foxes (sub pop and Bella Union), and they would be a familiar band to compare them to. Both share an interest in harmonies and brooding lyrics and both have a retro charm that also sounds very 21st century. I think there is something a bit deeper about Beach House though. Their music isn’t as pretty or catchy as Fleet Foxes – it is darker and more intense. In a way they also sound like a more accessable, more dreamy Grizzly Bear. There is an intimate sparseness to this record that is very reminiscent of both Grizzly Bear and also The XX. ‘Teen Dream is a much more traditional album than those two but it is no less interesting.

As I said at the beginning, I interpreted this album as being about longing and regret. Their lyrics are often annoyingly vague or cryptic but you just need to hear the vocals or the winding keyboard to understand the sense of loss on this record. ‘It’s incomplete without you…It’s happening again.’ We aren’t told what’s happening or what’s incomplete but it sounds pretty brilliant. And in fairness I suspect the band were after that dreamy, snapshot effect in their lyrics. The subject matter is personal and nostalgic – you pick up the pieces and and some will make sense to you, some you guess only make sense to the singer.

Beach House’s albums have always been a bit distant and nicely experimental. That’s still true of ‘Teen Dream’, but musically the sparseness has developed into a more straightforward and warm atmosphere. The album even sounds intimate to the point of being slightly claustrophobic, but all things considered it’s a lovely, comforting and very old fashioned type of record. ’10 Mile Stereo’ and ‘Real Love’ almost break down with emotion, it feels at times like the cheap drum machine won’t be able to hold the other instruments together, such is the power coming out of the speakers.

Enough can’t be said about the power of sequencing and post production. My Biggest complaint with Grizzly Bear was that the track listing was not consistent or cohesive enough. Here Beach House have made a much more concise and thought out record, that doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of ‘Veckatimest’ but does work better as a unified whole. ‘Zebera’ is a powerful opener that introduces the listener to the band’s trademark style, and this is followed by the more sombre ‘Silver Soul’ and then the familiar ‘Norway. The moments of darkness sit well next to the moments of light largely thanks to the track order and the consistent simplicity of the instruments.

‘Walk in the park’ is a real highlight. It is memorable for a repetitive organ cycle, a simple drum beat and some sadly nostalgic lyrics. There is a great warmth to both the sound and lyrics.On Norway the keyboard swirls and moans like it’s got seasickness – it adds to the otherworldly feel of the song. Eventually the album drifts away with the closer ‘Take Care’, the fade out is slow, you hear the end coming before it arrives.  The whole album really does feel a bit like a dream, the music is out of focus and the meanings are just out of reach.

‘Are you not the same as you used to be?’ This is from the album’s standout track ‘Used to be’ and it sums up the record nicely. No they aren’t quite the same as they used to be, but this album isn’t a huge step away from their two other very solid albums. ‘Teen Dream’ is an album that works well if you listen to it at the right place, right time. It certainly isn’t an album for all tastes or moods but there is no faulting the band at what they do. This is the record that will take them to bigger and better things.

8.5/10


Best Albums of 2009!

7 Jan

Below is a list of my 50 favourite albums of 2009. The top ten is a mixture of interesting new bands, surprising returns and assured comebacks. It was a very good (maybe not classic) year for albums…

50. Warm Heart of Africa – The Very Best

49. Between My Head and The Sky – Yoko Ono

48. Rewild – Amazing Baby

47. Ocean Sunbirds – Universal Studios Florida

46. Oh My God Charlie Darwin – The Low Anthem

45. LP – Discovery

44. Songs of Shame – Woods

43. Invaders must Die – The Prodigy

42. Journal For Plague Lovers – Manic Street Preachers

41. Kings and Queens – Jamie T

40. True Romance – Golden Silvers

39. To Loose My life – White Lies

38. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons

37. Embryonic – The Flaming Lips

36. Roadsinger – Yusuf

35. Tounge n Cheek – Dizzee Rascal

34. Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

33. West Pauper Lunatic Asylum – Kasabian

32. Christmas In The Heart/ Together Through Life – Bob Dylan

31. Everything is New – Jack Penate

30. Wavvves – Wavves

29. Man on The Moon – Kid Cudi

28. Two Suns – Bat for Lashes

27. 21st Century Breakdown – Green Day

26. Gorilla Manor – Local Natives

25. Psychic Chasms – Neon Indian

24. Mind Chaos – Hockey

23. The Ressistance – Muse

22. Two Dancers – Wild Beasts

21. Backspacer – Pearl Jam

20. Wall of Arms – The Maccabees

19. Manners – Passion Pit

18. Life of Leisure – Washed Out

17. Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors

16. It’s Blitz – Yeay Yeah Yeahs

15. Walking on a Dream – Empire of The Sun

14. Wolfganag Armadaus – Phoenix

13. The Crying Light – Anthony and The Johnsons

12. Phrazes for The Young – Julian Casablancas

11. Only Revolutions – Biffy Clyro

10. The Virgins – The Virgins

9. Tonight – Franz Ferdinand

8. Summertime – The Drums

7. My Maudlin Carear – Camera Obscura

6. First Days of Spring – Noah and The Whale

5. Album – Girls

4. Primary Colours – The Horrors

3. Meriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective

2. The XX – The XX

1. Humbug – Arctic Monkeys

Singles of 2009!

30 Dec

Below is a list of my top 50 favourite singles, a better list than I thought it would be, turns out 2009 was a good year for singles. I particuarly liked the lo-fi pop coming out of America (Girls, Wavves, Surfer Blood etc). Links to videos are provided for the top 20 and stay tuned for top 50 albums of the year coming soon…

50. Uprising – Muse

49. So Bored – Wavves

48. The Fixer – Pearl Jam

47. Omen – The Prodigy

46. We Are The People – Empire Of The Sun

45. Zero – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

44. Stillness is the move – Dirty Projectors

43. Velvet – The Big Pink

42. Hooting and Howling – Wild Beasts

41. Bulletproof – La Roux

40. In For The Kill – La Roux

39. The Captain – Biffy Clyro

38. While You Wait For The Others – Grizzly Bear

37. Cousins – Vampire Weekend

36. That Golden Rule – Biffy Clyro

35. Fire – Kasabian

34. Crystallised – The XX

33. 21st Century Breakdown – Green Day

32. Orange Shirt – Discovery

31. One Week of Danger – The Virgins

30. 11th Dimension – Julian Casablancas

29. Empire State of Mind – Jay Z

28. Feel It All Around – Washed Out

27. No You Girls – Franz Ferdinand

26. Warriors Dance – The Prodigy

25. The Fear – Lilly Allen

24. Dominos – The Big Pink

23. Walking on a dream – Empire Of The Sun

22. Love You Better – The Maccabees

21. Pokerface – Lady Gaga

20. Daniel – Bats For Lashes

19. Crying Lightning – Arctic Monkeys

18. Brightside – The Soft Pack

17. Who Can Say – The Horrors

16. Sticks and Stones – Jamie T

15. Laura – Girls

14. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

13. My Girls – Animal Collective

12. Never Forget You – The Noisettes

11. Sun Was High and So Was I – Best Coast

10. Hyph Mngo – Joy Orbison

9. Swim to reach The End – Surfer Blood

8. Rich Girls – The Virgins

7. Bonkers – Dizzie Rascal

6. Remedy – Little Boots

5. Song Away – Hockey

4. Lets go Surfing – The Drums

3. Cornerstone – Arctic Monkeys

2. Lust For Life – Girls

1. Sea Within A Sea – The Horrors