Once in a while, there is an album that appears out of nowhere. Or, better said, it appears out of Raph’s nowhere. Basically, it appears, and it isn’t going anywhere. Low vs Diamond was one like that. I wondered this morning why that album, out of all, deserved a place here on this blog. It’s not like I haven’t heard more kick ass albums this year. The XX, even, isn’t one of those ‘all songs are awesome’ albums. So far, I’ve only even absorbed the first 4. But that was enough. There are two criteria for appearing on this blog, and then I’ll tell you about The XX. The first criteria is that the album does something… particular. I’m not going to say ‘does something like nobody else’. This isn’t what we’re searching for in art. On the contrary; as the quote whose author I forgot says: “Poetry is when you make new things familiar, and familiar things new. What it comes down to, ultimately, is about hitting the spot. Hitting it so precisely that it can’t be ignored. And hitting it in its own way, which is the second half. Such are the reasons my applaud goes to Low vs Diamond, the slam poet Rives, Ben Gibbard’s and today, The XX. And why I have nothing but contempt for convoluted artistic shit that tried to do its own thing so much it forgot all about hitting the spot. Any spot. So back to the XX.
To say that the album is an understatement would be the understatement of the year. The first time I heard their song ‘crystalised’ (under serious pressure from Raph), I thought that song had been designed to be forgotten. Not because it was bad, but because it didn’t seem to desire to impose itself on you, the listener. Like a love letter written after a break-up, the song appeared to say goodbye even as it was being heard for the first time. So I didn’t do much with it. I inserted it as best as I could on our latest mixtape (Beats from Berlin) and thought of it no more. And that’s when the sonofabitch started creeping on me. Creeping! So quietly, so slowly. Out of nowhere, out of Raph’s nowhere. They all seemed to already know what I was only slowly awakening to. I had no words for it yet, I just pressed play. Again. Again. Once more. Put it on repeat. Telling yourself you’re just cycling through town and minding your own business. You are wrong. The XX is minding its business, and by extension, yours. God, just thinking about it, I realize how far it has crept between my… ‘entrailles’ as we say in french. Roughly translating as ‘guts’, but ‘entrailles’ intimately refers to that maze of organic stuff that is in you, and when something creeps in there, it means it has crept in every spare inch inside that maze. Sorry to be graphic about it. And even then, oh the delusion, when you told yourself ‘well they have one good song’. Yeah right. Then came the song VCR. With lyrics such as ‘You, you just know, you just do’. (and a melody that won’t leave you ever, ever.) I’m tempted to interpret the song for you, but I shouldn’t, really. All their songs talk about love. Not the whole spectrum of it, no. Their angle is softness. The soft happiness of natural and unspoken intimacy (VCR). The quiet sadness of unrequited love. But moreover, the soft tragedy of the greyer shades of love. Which is why I’m not going to interpret the lyrics for you. Remember the part of ‘hitting the spot’? Well The XX do that in a perfect balance between ambiguity and perfectly captured familiar feelings. Islands, the fourth song on the album (excluding the intro), has the lead female singer confess ‘I am yours now / So now I don’t ever have to leave / I’ve been found out / So now I’ll never explore’. Oh look at you, reading such simple words, wondering ‘where is that brilliance that Tal talked to much about?’. Oh boy, you don’t know half of it. Go ahead, pretend it won’t get to you.
Heart skipped a beat, is the breakup song by excellence. What kind of song is a perfect break up song? The ones that deal with the non-total break ups. (If it was absolutely over, you wouldn’t be writing a song about it, would you?). What’s perfect about this song is that it is unclear who’s to blame for the ending. The song isn’t even dealing with the topic, it’s dealing with that mismatch of timings. When the two have wanted each other back at different times, never managed to synchronize since they were last together. But again, it’s the way they grasp such phenomenon, in such simple words and understated melodies. It’s been a while / And you’ve found someone better / But I’ve been waiting too long to give this up / The more I see, I understand / But sometimes, I still need you. Isn’t it just the more fucked up when no one is to blame? Things are just fucked, nothing no one can do about it, it seems. And there is not even anger left. No, The XX being who they are, there is only softness. Even for sadness, even for anger, but ultimately, especially for regret.
I will end this blog entry about the original song, Crystalised, with which it all began, and I will leave you, like me, to venture into the more obscure and less catchy rest of the album. There might be nothing there for us to find, there might be more of the same (something I find hard to complain about, seeing as we so often have desired ‘more of the same, just a bit different’ from best-selling bands/hits before. Another Clocks, anyone?). So I will end this blog entry with Crystalised. I remember clearly the part of it that hooked me. The part that made me replay the song inadvertently so often, is when the male and female singer start singing at the same time, in a sort of simultaneous canon.
Crystalised, a gentle warning to an over-hasty lover, has them sing at once:
Glaciers have melted to the sea/Things have gotten closer to the sun
I wish the tide would take me over/And I’ve done things in small doses
I’ve been down onto my knees/So don’t think that I’m pushing you away
And you just keep on getting closer/When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest.
Game, set and burning matches.