Sound — 9
The XX are a much-hyped new British band. Their combination of emotional lyrics and spacious, melodic arrangement has won them many fans. 'XX' was recorded at night, which obviously affected the recording process. The music is quiet, almost non-existent at times; reverb-laden guitar parts usually comprise the melody, with the bass adding to the quiet and the drum machine punctuating it. The vocals tend to float on top of the music instead of joining with it. The XX's sound is their secret weapon. Instead of simply boring people by being too quiet, it enhances the emotion of the vocals and forces the melody into your ears.
Lyrics — 7
One of the many unusual aspects of the band's formula is that they have two very different-sounding vocalists. Olly Sim and Romy Madley-Croft duet on every song, usually singing alternating verses and then coming together to sing the chorus. This approach, though slightly repetetive, makes it feel as though the pair are singing to each other, making the album feel incredibly personal and intimate. When they sing the end of 'Heart Skipped a Beat' together 'Heart skipped a beat And when I caught it you were out of reach But I'm sure, I'm sure You've heard it before' it almost feels like the listener is hearing two lovers lamenting the end of a relationship or something similar, and it makes you feel awkwardly emotional. However, this approach doesn't always work, especially on 'Basic Space', where Olly Sim's voice suits the music much better than Madley-Crofts. It feels imbalanced.
Overall Impression — 6
The worst thing about 'XX' is that it is so close to being brilliant. The spacious sound, raw emotion and basic melody should add together to make musical gold, but it just feels as if there's something fundamentally wrong with the band's formula. It's hard to pin down where the problem lies. It could be the lack of a drummer, or lack of exploration in the lyrics, or it could simply be that it's all too quiet. They deserved the Mercury Prize, if only for trying something new, but we should really be looking toward the XX's future, because surely better albums lie ahead.