August 15, 2012
It's a late, dingy night in Brussels, Belgium, and Oliver Sim—one-third of the xx—is trying to let go. More specifically, he’s trying to let go of his band’s just-completed album, Coexist. It’s sounding like a tough process.
“We actually finished it a couple of times,” Sim says, with the frustration that suits an artist. “But we’re actually sitting back and letting it go. It’s mixed and mastered. It’s done. It’s a great feeling.”
And then, as if second-guessing himself, he adds, “It’s hard to do, just truly accepting ...” He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “I just don’t want to be listening back to a record that we made in years to come and wishing that we had changed things.”
This perfectionist instinct sounds nitpicky, but it might be what separates the xx from legions of other acts that, from a distance, share their aural flavor. The xx might be in London’s burgeoning indie-pop scene, but they’re not of it.
The band’s approach is more calculated than you’d believe possible from members not yet of legal age to rent a car. It’s patient. So, Sim can be forgiven for sounding like he’s on a bit of a emotional roller coaster at the moment. Releasing an album is an event the xx clearly takes more seriously than most.
“I’m just making sure that I’m happy with everything. And, at the same time, just accepting that we’ve captured a moment and knowing that it’s the best we can do right now. If I listened to the first record, there’s definitely stuff I can change, but I know I wouldn’t, because I realize that’s kind of in-the-moment.”
The xx first made waves in 2009, when their single, “Crystalised,” turned heads sharp enough to snap necks. It sounded like a distinctly modern take on everyone’s favorite parts of the UK’s underground music scene. There were hints of Interpol in the moody guitars, but it was Interpol by way of Aaliyah: paranoid, rhythmic, wrapped up in itself and beset with twitchy pop flourishes. The backbeat had a danceable quality to it, which mercifully kept the whole affair from getting too somber.
When their self-titled debut landed, they proved “Crystalised” had not been a lark. The rest of the album was set with similar shoulder-shimmying grooves, nimble bass lines and the intriguing, opaque, call-and-response interchanges of Sim and his childhood friend and fellow vocalist, Romy Madley Croft.
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