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The xx: Switching Roles In Song
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The xx: Switching Roles In Song


Finally this hour, a review of a rock band that's generating a lot of hype. The xx is a London-based group with a minimalist sound.

Reviewer Robert Christgau says The xx is worth the hype.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: I first heard The xx under highly inappropriate circumstances: while watching a baseball game at my friend Joe's place. The Angels were whipping the Yanks and Joe had been touting The xx, so I welcomed the distraction. In fact, two minutes after Joe put the album on, I asked him to mute the TV. I didn't want to be distracted from The xx.

(Soundbite of song, "VCR")

The xx (Rock Band): (Singing) You used to have all the answers. And you, you still have them too. And we will live half in the daytime and we will live half at night.

CHRISTGAU: Maybe you think not much happens in that rather leisurely selection, and I agree. Minimalism can be a bore, a con or both. But this minimalism captivated me right from the even sparer instrumental opener. And I'm not the only one.

Arriving at work with The xx on his iPod, my friend Joe removed his ear buds only to hear the same album coming out of an officemate's computer speakers. Me, I took a TV break while writing this very paragraph. And what do you think played over the show's closing shot? The xx. Same song: "VCR."

Now, here's the next track.

(Soundbite of song, "Crystalised")

The xx: (Singing) You've applied the pressure that helped me crystalised. And you've got the faith that I can bring paradise. I'll forgive and forget�

CHRISTGAU: Musically, it's the same strategy: hooky ostinato riff embellished with a few subtle effects, leading to a soft vocal. On "Crystalised," the exaggerated drawl of bassist Oliver Sim precedes the more human-scale croon of guitarist Romy Madley Croft.

She's clearly the main attraction, persona-wise. But neither projects the cool detachment associated with the Kraftwerk tradition of minimalist pop. Nor do they declaim in the manner of Robert Smith of The Cure or Bernard Sumner of New Order, both of whom sold louder versions of similar strategies. For the coolest kids on the scene, they're reassuringly vulnerable.

(Soundbite of song, "Infinity")

The xx: (Singing) Give it up. I can't give it up. I can't give it up to someone else's touch because I care too much.

CHRISTGAU: I'm impressed by everything about The xx: the singing, the lyrics, the way the two principals shift roles without ever seeming hostile, cold or even unsupportive. Moreover, I believe this spiritual dimension underlies and helps power the seductiveness of the music. But I know damn well I could be rationalizing, looking for a way to explain music that needs no explanation.

I got over the Yankees' loss fast that night because I found The xx's album online and streamed it for my wife when I got home. We barely understood a word they were singing. But next morning at breakfast, we played it again.

(Soundbite of song, "Islands")

SIEGEL: That's critic Robert Christgau. The album, like the band, is called "The xx."

(Soundbite of song, "Islands")

The xx: (Singing) I don't have to leave anymore. What I have is right here. Spend my nights and days�

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