Part three of Guitar Lessons London’s 5 Great Guitar Albums is an album that was certifiably fresh when released in 2009, taking indie guitar music in a completely new direction and marking the beginning of a successful career for the band, particularly for percussionist, and now famous DJ, Jamie XX. The guitar work on the album is overtly neat and tidy, accentuated by the striped-down, spacious productions. Sliding, noodling and simple strumming proves so effective in combination with both guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s and bassist Oliver Sim’s vocals.
The album gets its main punch from the emotion the songs produce, brought out by the interplay between the two vocalists. Infinity in particular is typical of this. The song builds via the simple interplay between Sim’s “Give it up” and Madley Croft’s response “I can’t give it up”, the rising tension heightened by heavy reverb on the guitar. These are tracks that resonate and connect with listeners, aren’t complicated by a vast array of instruments, and are inspiring enough to convince anyone to pick up a guitar and learn an XX song within ten minutes. Perhaps this is partly an explanation as to why the album (and band) has been so successful.
The songs on the album comprise pop ballads and neat, driving tracks – all wonderfully unhurried – revealing a band happy to slow down and take their time. The album is unique in its use of pacing, space within each track, and silence (see single Basic Space and closer Stars). In the crescendo of Shelter, all we hear is a simple strumming guitar, a bass, and Madley-Croft’s soothing vocals, yet the effect is so much more than simply the sum of its parts. XX was a huge hit in both the mainstream and underground – it was special to hear near-silence in the middle of a song on Radio 1. The use of a drum machine for percussion, instead of a drum kit, and the rhythms Jamie XX employs reveals a band indebted to R&B. Indeed, some UK versions of the album came with a bonus track – their cover of Aaliyah’s Hot Like Fire.
XX is a testament to The xx’s innovation and production ability. NME ranked the album the second best of 2009, Pitchfork third and The Guardian first. NME also ranked XX no.237 on it’s ‘500 greatest albums of all time’ list in 2013. Eight years on, revisit highlights Intro, Crystalised, Shelter, Infinity and Stars.