x plus x equals xx

Two takes on tracks by the xx from the album xx
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x one: 2009 is 1989 all over again. Exhibit 89: The xx intro themselves near Fascination Street, somewhere across the city from the fine times and vanishing points where Memory Tapes currently resides. Truth be told, that year is just one of many pre-millennial ones this sneaky group taps into and renovates. Their minor key, lowercase late night musings shine darkly like Young Marble Giants circa-1979. Their slowly uncoiling guitar lines accompany a less chaste version of the gorgeous languor on Unrest's 1992 imperial f.f.r.r. (Teen Beat), an album whose male-female vocal duality was an outgrowth of the shoegaze craze of — wait for it — 1989. When they cast their eyes at infinity, the brooding atmosphere and cavernous reverb sound a bit like the wicked games and twin peaks of 1989, as well. The canny use of space and silence, masculine and feminine on The xx (Young Turks) might reach maximum seduction and propulsion on "Islands," where the low-end throbs like Tricky breaking free from the Wild Bunch and the angular guitar melodies flutter with excitement as Oliver Sims' sexy cig-rasp snakes in and out of Romy Madley Croft's soft, lazy lead vocal. Too many British female vocalists go so wan they lose all sense of lust. But not her — not here. (Johnny Ray Huston)

x two: "Basic space, open air ... don't look away when there's nothing there." On the intimate Independent stage, what will the emotionally prickly xx share? The quartet's just lost keyboardist Baria Qureshi due to exhaustion and their much-hyped live show at CMJ this year was called "warmed-over Tracey Thorn" by a cheeky New York Times critic. That would seem paradoxical (no one associates physical exhaustion with Everything But the Girl appearances) if paradox wasn't the xx's creative engine, the push-pull of sexual relationships churning lyrically within an obsessively polished, passive-aggressively spare musical backdrop. The xx's "Basic Space" might be the best encapsulation of this Ziploc-ed bleeding heart aesthetic. From its inverted horror-movie metaphors — co-singer Oliver Sims climbs into a pool of boiling wax, which provides him with a "shine," a "second skin," while Romy Madley Croft states, "I'll take you in pieces" — to its plucky Smiths-pinching final phrases and tin-Casio organ chords, the track is at the razor's edge of current indie pop sensibilities. What's uniquely its own, though, besides the way the tune's steel-blue flicker runs up your discs, and what the xx brings to the world of rock, is a voluble taciturnity — yearning for personal space while lamenting its necessity, holding yourself together by breaking into pieces, creating a killer dance tune just one whiff away from silence. Sustaining that attitude live will be a neat trick. (Marke B.)

THE XX

With Friendly Fires, Holly Miranda

Nov 23, 9 p.m., sold out

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

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