Saturday, August 28, 2010

The xx -- "Shelter" (2009)

Maybe I had said something that was wrong
Can I make it better with the lights turned on?

Say what?  I was expecting the singer to suggest she could make things better with the lights turned off -- not on.  

This is part two of my two-part tribute to bands whose names start and end with the letter "X."  Here's a link to part one, which featured the Los Angeles punk band, X.

The xx is (are?) from London, and its members are all 21 years old, I believe.  This song is from their first CD, xx, which was highly praised by most critics and ended up on a number of "best albums of the year" lists.

This is not a paid endorsement
xx is the quietest band I've ever heard.  This is music to listen to while wearing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, although I did recognize one of the songs playing at a J. Crew outlet store I was in a few days ago despite a fair amount of background noise. 

One of the famous jokes in This Is Spinal Tap is that the volume control settings of a standard amplifier goes range from 1 to 10, but the volume controls on Spinal Tap's amplifiers go to 11.

The xx's volume controls must be calibrated in tenths -- o.1, 0.2, 0.3, and so on.  When a song starts off quietly, it usually builds in volume -- but xx's songs start off quietly and stay there. 

Pierce Brosnan
One British reviewer said xx "wouldn't say boo to a goose," and added that "[i]t's tough to think of anything more tender" than this group of shy, polite London schoolmates.  (The members of xx first met at the Elliott School in London, a comprehensive school with a strong tradition in the performing arts whose alums include Pierce Brosnan and Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac.)  Assuming his characterization is accurate, their music certainly reflects their personalities.

Another UK reviewer said that "[t]he xx are writing conventional -- and very near perfect -- pop songs . . . but refusing to indulge in pop's usual kitchen-sink production, and instead using the smallest number of musical elements that can convey the idea."  I think that's very perceptive, although it is hard for me to look behind the idiosyncratic, minimalist production and find the conventional pop songs that are hiding there.  I'll be interested to see what their second album is like -- whether xx is a one-trick pony or not.

Some reviewers say that xx's music is influenced by contemporary R&B and hip-hop.  I don't get that.  This is not music to which "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it" really applies.  

By the way, the xx appeared in New York City earlier this year with the Swedish band, jj.  Truth is often stranger than fiction, isn't it?

No one will believe this, but it's true.  When I listened to the song "Infinity" from xx, I was immediately reminded of the dreamy, swirly, bittersweet Chris Isaak song, "Wicked Game," which became a top ten hit after it was featured in the 1990 David Lynch film, Wild at Heart.  A few minutes later, I found a BBC review of the album that made exactly that point and it turns out that a lot of others also noted the resemblance.  One guy went so far as to create a mash-up that combines the two songs.

Here's "Shelter."  Remember -- turn the volume down.  (That's still too loud -- turn it down a little more.)

Here's a video of xx performing the song at a record store in Vancouver:

Click here if you'd like to buy this song from iTunes:

Click here if you'd like to buy it from Amazon:

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