The XX might be the most tense bunch of 2009. You can't listen to this band and not feel a vague sense of anxiety. Weaving taut arrangements dipped in a post-punk after-glow, they are all build-up and no pay-off. It is all intentionally unsatisfying. The music is almost nervous, or more aptly, would be nervous if it weren't so self-consciously confident. Still, watching someone be confidently tense is about as relaxing as watching the middle 50-minutes of Man On Wire. It's kind of pretty, but you feel like disaster is riding shotgun, somewhere around an invisible corner, waiting to ruin everything. The fear ends up in your mouth without really being there.
But perhaps the point is to court a disaster without actually having one. Sort of like eluding to tragedy without actually experiencing it. Sort of like knowing someone who is emotionally destroyed without actually being emotionally destroyed yourself. Sort of like walking a slow-core Interpol high-wire without actually risking anything. Why? The XX are just fine. Whether their self-awareness is crippling or powerful - I wouldn't turn around: Danger is sitting on the back of your neck with a view to a kill.
Listen :: The XX - "Crystalised"
Bonus :: The XX - "Stars" (demo)