Omnipresent at CMJ last fall were the xx and their white X monogram. They played the Today show, along with countless other showcases, were the critical darlings of NME, released a universally acclaimed eponymous debut record, xx, and licensing deals flourished, like the prominent 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games AT&T ad featuring Apollo Anton Ohno—a reference overheard several times as a packed Webster Hall waited for the young Londoners to commence their first American headlining tour. Their meteoric rise has been swift—possibly even overwhelming. Former fourth member Baria Qureshi left the group shortly after CMJ.
Their ascent continues, however. A concise set Wednesday night opened with the dramatic silhouettes of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith, sequentially flashing to the swelling rhythm of the instrumental “Intro”—naturally track one on xx. The sequence provided a beautiful visual, serving as a perfect introduction to the trio, their sound, and their strict black-white aesthetic while simultaneously greasing the audience up and flashing some theatrics. In their redundancy and simplicity they echo Peter Bjorn and John, both musically and stylistically, albeit at a slower tempo. Their bold “x” was ubiquitous.
Their set, however, seemed pinned between two antipodal forces: the energy of the crowd and the lethargy of the music. Still, the band’s morose melodies, downtrodden tempos, soft-spoken vocals and empty arrangements only further provoked the fans’ rapture, especially on “VCR” and “Crystalised”. But their stoner goth music seemed to fit another, listless, demographic entirely. (I found myself equally, if not more, stirred by their music sitting alone at 2 a.m.). The band played nearly all of their record, but the Hall’s sound consistently lacked the heavy bass their songs call for.
Rattling bass was particularly lacking during jj’s opening set. Facing similar critical praise after the release of their debut nº 2, jj is touring in support of their follow-up, nº 3. Wearing a shawl and keeping to herself, lead singer Elin mostly sang alone to prepared tracks, which suited jj’s aloof, stoned tone. The duo’s warm melodic pop sounds filtered through water, creating disarming beats upon which a sandy alto croons. They constantly evoked the atmospheric pop of Enya, but with lyrics suggesting the comfort of a drug-buddy/lover. As Elin sang “Take me away like I overdosed on heroin” on “Let Go”, its delicate harp arrangement seemed to consider the pleasure in such a death.
Earlier in the evening, solo DJ Nosaj Thing used his sampler as a dance partner. Jerking and shaking twice as fast as his music, it wasn’t evident his knob twisting was producing anything other than a performance. Taken with jj and the xx, it seemed the excellent albums of the evening’s young artists were best on a stoner’s record player, complimenting a spliff session, rather than the stage of a 1,400 person capacity music hall.
Photos by Thomas Hauner