It’s when it comes to albums like this one that the difficulty of having to finalise this list while it is still essentially active and open to change is most obvious to me. Looking down the list now, I’ve no idea if the order in which the 2009 albums in this list appear will reflect their final standings in my Best of 09 list or if they are too high due to current popularity or not high enough due to lack of prolonged exposure. Who knows. Suffice to say, there were a few agonising decisions when it came to including a number of albums from this year and when I first opted to put this in the list, it came at the expense of another 2009 album which couldn’t be any less similar to this one even if it tried. That said, both records understand the importance of space, of letting the music breathe and of pursuing your own sound, even if it doesn’t really fit with anything else. Hard luck, ‘Truelove’s Gutter’, nicely done, ‘xx’.
The first I knew about them was when one of their black x stickers was included with an order from Norman Records. Presumably, I’d already subconsciously noticed them in the NME but hadn’t chosen to act on it. The delightful Jude Rogers mentioned them rather a lot in her Twitter posts and, upon receipt of the sticker, I did a bit of digging around on the internet and was intrigued. I bought the CD on the day of release and then made the mistake of having my first listen in the car. The car is held together by will power and whenever it needs a push the bodywork simply bends in, rather than taking the pressure put upon it. The speakers aren’t much better and bass is not something they handle well. If you’ve heard ‘xx’ you will realise why this meant that the venue for my first play was hardly appropriate.
A few more plays occurred soon thereafter and I was sufficiently interested to revisit it from time to time. I was aware that songs like ‘Islands’ and ‘VCR’ were lodging in my head but the album as a whole had yet to click. Then, the as delightful as the aforementioned Jude, Jo Good played a remix of Florence’s ‘You Got The Love’ by Jamie from The xx when filling in on 6music and I was hooked. Essentially a complete retooling of the track it seemed to tell me in five minutes when I should love The xx and how I’d been ignoring something really rather special.
Next thing I knew, I was ordering a second copy of the album: a delightful vinyl copy with the cut out ‘x’ logo looking all the more marvellous in a 12×12 format. And this time around there was no denying the album’s greatness. The imposing yet minimalist chugging in the background of ‘Shelter’ as it seems to be slowly building is R’n’B without all the fancy production and enormous beats and the dextrous bass throughout the record is a revelation. On the face of it, nothing much seems to happen on this record and yet this is exactly how so much does happen. There’s nothing to distract you from the great hooks and claustrophobic vocals. I know this has been said about a million albums before – and plenty of times by me – but get yourself a gloomy room, a pair of headphones and a copy of this album and see what it does for you. Looking back now, I can’t really imagine being anything other than captivated by this album but there was a time when it hadn’t quite hooked me in. Give it the plays it needs and it’ll likely work its magic on you too.