Fake gold, black hoods and stern faces. Recent teens The xx hardly look like a band capable of making delicate electronic symphonies; they’re surely the local dropouts that make you wince involuntarily as you pass them in the street. Michael Jackson never looked like an innocent man though, did he? “We only wear hoodies because we’re cold,” reasoned co-mouthpiece Romy when we interviewed her two months ago, not in a “ya got twennee pee f’me?” huff, but a shy, hushed voice that together with best friend Oliver drives this emotive lo-fi debut. The xx aren’t yobs, they’re romantics. Very articulate, understated romantics.

Falling in love starts with a down tempo surf riff, rising vocal hums and clipped processed beats that quickly become key in this record’s charm and success (no doubt due to programmer James taking on the producer role). So far, so post-Metronomy. But ‘The xx’ instantly feels warmer than most drum machine albums that synthetically click along, neither completely human nor decisively computerised. It’s because of Romy and Oliver, two soul mates – if you believe in such a thing – that have been inseparable since playschool; a pair that share his’n’her throaty purrs.

‘VCR’ is named after boxy recording equipment but sounds like a nostalgic love song between a classic 80s songstress and a lived-in black soul singer. In truth, little else makes Romy and Oliver cringe more than the idea of relations between them – they don’t even tell each other what their separate lyrics are about – though the convincing emotion on each of their parts is either completely heartfelt or the band’s best trick yet.

‘Crystalised’ (the best song here) nearly ventures into tribal territories – in a Bat-For-Lashes-howling-at-an-urban-moon sense of the word – and ‘Islands’ features a dubby, slow-motion mathrock riff that’s The Police at half speed and yet still the fastest track present by a stretch. Seduction takes time, and The xx aren’t about to pander to being a quick pop fix, which is brave but ultimately responsible for this debut falling short of the masterpiece yardstick.

Upped BPM and four-to-the-floor high-hats shouldn’t be needed to keep our attention – truth is, disco’s so rinsed right now that they’re the quickest route to fixed stares into the middle distance – but after such an engaging start, the constantly mellow pace of ‘The xx’ can struggle to hold your attention, like Kings Of Leon’s ‘Because of the Times’, which seemed to play for 3 hours, but always in the background.

Continual plays treat to cure this ailment though; a pill that is a joy to swallow.

By Stuart Stubbs

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