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Album Review: The xx

 
By on Monday, 14th September 2009 at 2:00 pm
 

The xx (cover)Before I listened to this album several times through the other day on the train I hadn’t heard of “The xx“, and apparently they are supposed to be lower case letters there. But as I’m doing some research on these guys to put some info before I tell you what I think of the music, there seems to be some hype for these guys, so this review is written with me (mostly) unaware as to whom this band is.

The xx are a four-piece from South London, formed in 2005. “xx” is their first full-length release, and it really is excellent. Vocals are the focus of this album, the music to accompany is ambient and stripped down to a bare minimum, without being dry and uninteresting. The whole record is a complete surprise, you’d struggle to find a genuine comparison with anyone, you’ll hear the odd familiar twang or something which you recognise but before you can decipher it the moment has passed, and to spend time trying to find similarities would be a disservice to such masterfully crafted record.

You have both female and a male vocalist, of which both feature as prominently as the other. Neither voice is particularly strong or aesthetic, but when used in the same track they almost seem to work, more often than not passing back and forth between either vocalist, with very strong lyrics throughout.

Stand out track for myself is probably “Night Time”, though as a whole there isn’t a particularly weak track on the record. This really is an outstanding debut and I implore you to fire up iTunes or get to the shops or however you buy your music and get this record, certainly has my personal “best debut of 2009” seal of approval for the year so far. To produce such an accomplished record so early on in their career, and with them all just being aged twenty years old, it makes the record just slightly more impressive than it already was. All we need now is to be told the proper pronunciation of “The xx”. Ideas on a postcard.

9/10

Buy The xx’s debut album on iTunes or on Amazon.

 

Live Review: Friendly Fires and the xx at Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York City – 13th August 2009

 
By on Monday, 24th August 2009 at 2:00 pm
 

Part 1 of my Big Apple Friendly Fires mini-tour adventure was in artsy Greenwich Village. From my hotel and two subway rides and a longish walk away and I was outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, run by the same folks who run the famed Bowery Ballroom, where part 2 awaited me. Friendly Fires played here before, in October 2008, when they opened for Lykke Li – rather inconveniently, their time with the Swedish pop princess did not include a stop in Washington. This meant that I didn’t get to see them in my hometown until they were headlining their own tour (well, actually co-headlining the NME Presents tour with White Lies).

Brooklyn feels like a world away from Manhattan, what us non-New Yorkers envision when we think about “New York City”. (Just so you know, New York is a considerable hike from Washington, so I’m familiar and comfortable with the city as much as you Brits are.) So I wondered if this crowd was going to be radically different from the one I saw the previous night. There wasn’t much room to move when we were inside le poisson rouge, so I hoped that with a bigger venue, I might actually be able to get my groove on, even though the gig was sold out. I did, sort of…read on…

d-mhw-xx3The venue reminds me of a small version of Washington’s 9:30 Club in set-up – there’s a balcony for people who want to look down and not fight with the crowd on the floor (which, in retrospect, might have been a safer vantage point for this concert). I was able to get a great spot – right at the speakers dead center of the stage – and the place was only slightly filled for the opening act, the xx. Their debut album ‘xx’ just came out last week on 17 August, and BBC 6music made it their album of the day on 20 August. They’re getting played on Radio1, which I take as a good sign. They make for a good match label-wise; the xx’s album was released on Young Turks, sister label to Friendly Fires’ XL Recordings, so it’s all in the family so to speak.

And while you might think it’s quite a leap from the xx’s musical style to Friendly Fires’s, think again: sexy music is sexy music, whether it be sultry lyrics paired with bass-heavy rock of the xx or pained yet exuberant lyrics about relationships combined with buoyant electropop from Friendly Fires. My knowledge of the xx was limited to hearing their singles on Steve Lamacq’s 6music programme, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Live, the xx didn’t disappoint. They are the real deal. The band has two singers – bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley-Croft – which makes for an interesting dynamic all too rare in popular music today. While the band has a subdued presence on stage compared to the Fires (read: they aren’t jumping around onstage and hitting percussion with gusto), they make up for it in emotional feeling in their songs. ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Basic Space’ were fabulous live, as well as their take on the Womack and Womack classic, ‘Teardrops’. I hope they tour in America soon, but urgent note to UKers: catch them in Britain while you can!

o-mhw-ff9You will find me down at the front for gigs, because it’s the only way I can guarantee I can see what’s going on stage. And when you’re at the front, you often lose track of what’s going on behind you. This is what happened at this gig. I turned around and was faced with a wall of people. Where did all these people come from? Obviously, they were here for Friendly Fires. I think the band and their crew were cognisant that gig-goers were not happy for the long wait the night before, so things were set quickly like clockwork and the band arrived on stage via a upper level stage door at the appointed time, to the thunderous applause to all their adoring fans in the club below. Two guys next to me pumped their fists in the air and yelled their heads off. This being my fourth Friendly Fires gig, I didn’t think much of the extremely loud shouting from excited fans. Vocalist/bassist/synth player Ed Macfarlane addressed us in a serious tone, with “we’re Friendly Fires. This is our second and last night in New York. I want to leave here with happy memories, so come on, please!” Looking back at it now, I laugh at this because he had absolutely no idea what was going to happen later that night.

The show was amazing, definitely one of the best gigs I’ve been to in all my life. Everyone in the venue, every girl and guy, knew all the words and were singing along loudly. They were dancing along and were so genuinely happy to be there. I was loving being able to move around and shake a tail feather, which is what Friendly Fires’s music is all about. The floor was moving up and down so much I wondered just how much more force would be required for the floorboards to break under our feet.

p-mhw-ff10‘Skeleton Boy’, complete with brass section, blew me away this night. It’s so very different from the album version (as are most of the songs they play on the road). Run, do not walk, to see Friendly Fires live. The album is great but live the songs are even better. ‘Kiss of Life’ gets my vote for the FIFA 2010 World Cup theme song; the Brooklyn crowd just loved it, and I think even football fans would appreciate its brilliance, especially with Edd Gibson’s wicked, wicked guitar solo that he should be playing on the music video. The only thing that could make Friendly Fires better live: new songs, or possibly them playing some covers to mix things up.

Then came…utter mayhem. During ‘Paris’, a drunk girl decided she had to get onstage, some way, somehow. While she was waving her arms about to the music, Macfarlane was down on the floor with the rest of us, singing away and reveling in the crowd’s reaction to the music. I am rather embarrassed to say this but, since it was through no fault of my own and it was the crowd pushing themselves forward to try to touch the man, I might as well own up to it: during the song, I got caught between him and the stage, completely unable to move. Eventually, he got back onstage and despite his best intentions to gently nudge the aforementioned drunk girl back down into the crowd, she didn’t want to leave, so one of the Fires’s crew had to pick her up and deposit her back into the waiting arms of the crowd. (Somehow this same girl made her way back onstage later to maul Macfarlane with a kiss when he was trying in vain to play his synth.)

While moshers were reported at Friendly Fires’s sold-out iTunes Festival gig in July, I certainly was not expecting this in America. Nor was I expecting the 25+ people who stormed the stage and joined the band for the encore of ‘Ex Lover’. I’m not sure if this is a preview of what’s to come, but it sure made one thing loud and clear: America loves Friendly Fires. And we’re eager to have them back here performing for us on this side of the pond. You Brits have no idea how lucky you are.

a-mhw-venue

After the jump: setlists and photos.

Continue reading Live Review: Friendly Fires and the xx at Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York City – 13th August 2009

 

Video of the Day #97: The XX

 
By on Monday, 10th August 2009 at 6:00 pm
 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHZVGqqf3gg[/youtube]

The XX – Basic Space

I’ve only come across this great London four piece a few days ago, having spotted their name seemingly coming up everywhere. And boy am I glad I did – just like most of the blogosphere, I’m in love with their hazy, spaced out tunes that owe as much to The Cure as they do to some R&B legends. This video fits the mood perfectly of thie forthcoming single, “Basic Space”, which is out on Young Turks records today.

 
 
 

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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