“Basic Space” isn’t just a song on The xx’s debut; it’s also a sonic philosophy. The goal seems to be clarity for all parts at all times, and a desire to accentuate the gaps as much as the music itself. It’s not unusual for bands to employ pointedly minimal instrumentation and production, but it’s another thing to start an album with your loudest sound, then spend the rest of the album picking up the pieces one at a time. The instrumental “Intro” couldn’t be leaner—fuzzy keyboard, a simple guitar riff, wordless chanting—but the double-tracked drums boom out, setting an appropriately magisterial tone. This is epic minimalism.
Some songs are bigger than others: “VCR” and “Heart Skipped A Beat” revel in intentional tininess, while the swelling bassline of “Fantasy” will give any decent sub-woofer a workout. Mostly recorded at night (and sounding like it), xx combines its economy and discipline with all-out sultriness. The songs are unapologetically sexually fixated without being confrontational or hysterical. The male-female vocals are plain, quiet, and technically barely adequate, perfect for grounding the potentially lurid lines. The result is sexy like early Portishead and thoughtful like Young Marble Giants—a perfectly formed debut with a genuinely new sound way beyond the sum of identifiable forebears.