Required Listening: The First xx Album, Because The New One Makes Me Sad
I also talk about being 4-years old…
Time To Read: 4 mins | April 6, 2017
This is about to become a tribute article to my mom:
When I was around 4 years old, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle for Halloween. I’d landed on Raphael – I had a thing for sais at the time – and I demanded an obnoxiously detailed costume.
The thing is, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. This is a conversation for another time, but suffice to say 48-month old me crying for a hyper-accurate TMNT costume wasn’t something my (at this point) single mother could go out and casually afford. So she made it by hand.
I had a green full-body suit. There was an exaggerated abdominal midsection piece, and an appropriately-colored eye mask with coordinating belt. The shell-like backpack I already owned, per adolescent fandom. And in hindsight, I do imagine Mom had to shell out (pun super intended) to buy my pair of $4.99 plastic sais.
I’ve seen the pictures – I looked far better than any whiny child could reasonably demand.
Still though, despite all that attention to detail, I was being a little asshole. 48 hours before the big day, I realized that my hands were wrong. “Mom, these gloves aren’t right. Turtles only have three fingers!”
And my mother, being the saint she is, spent that evening stitching together a pair of gloves that’d make my hands look anatomically correct. To this day I am not worthy.
It was the next evening, however, that lives on in Freberg family lore. I was watching TMNT cartoons on October 30th, probably over a plate of pre-frozen chicken fingers (my entire diet before age 10), when I realized a discrepancy. I’d noticed a startling omission from my costume, so I marched into my mother’s bedroom and demanded the situation be remedied.
What follows is a 100% accurate quote that gets re-told at every formal family gathering:
“Turtles don’t have tongues. You need to cut mine out.”
Now though, to the topic at hand — I don’t remember how I first heard about the xx, but it’s fantastic sex music.
Not like, hair-tugging wall-pinning waking-up-the-neighbors sex. This is for a slow grind. Listen to their first album, and you’ll see what I’m on about:
Acoustically, there’s very little happening. The technical term for it is likely ‘minimalist’ because, when you’re listening to the Top 40 on the radio, you’re bombarded with 17 dozen instruments and synthesizers and autotune thingamahoochies. Thus you feel like something’s missing with the xx; there are spaces of silence, and usually no more than a handful of acoustics taking place simultaneously. Which is exactly why they blew up after their first album.
I’m far from an expert, but speaking personally, I’d never heard anything else like it. For lack of a better word, it’s cool. Calm, dark, perfect for falling to sleep to or, as I already mentioned, making whoopy — which is a terrible term for setting the mood. Never say that to a potential partner out loud.
The track ‘Intro’ will, appropriately, give you a sense of what’s to come. ‘Fantasy’ makes you feel 20 feet underwater, ‘Islands’ is slightly more upbeat but amongst the more popular songs and, for my money, ‘Stars’ is the best representation of the whole.
You should like this album. And you should feel good about their 2012 follow-up, Coexist. It’s simply more of what made the first one great: a couple voices, some bass, and just a handful of anything else.
Then they made a third album. It came out in January and it ruined everything.
I can’t bring myself to embed it here. This is a link, if you’re interested. And, frankly, there’s nothing out-and-out wrong with it. It sounds just like the dozens of electro-pop albums that come out weekly. I could listen to this alongside alt-J or VÉRITÉ, both of whom I love.
But that’s exactly the problem. The xx was never electro-pop. It was a moody, understated vibe that didn’t swing for the fences; they were the world’s most artful bunters. For this new album, however, they changed what they were, and while there’s nothing flagrantly wrong with the result, the magic of their origin is lost.
“I’m not cutting out your fucking tongue.”
We tend to swear in my household, and my mom, upon shattering my dream of being a point-for-point replica of Raphael, wanted to leave no doubt. She wasn’t going to let me change who I was for some momentary satisfaction.
The xx could have used my mom.
photo: the band that broke my heart