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The xx: The Sounds Of Gothic Soul

The four London Goths in The xx sport Mohawks, tattoos and black leather biker jackets. But if you were to peek at their record collection, you'd more likely find worn-out Aaliyah and Mariah Carey records than music by the likes of Bauhaus and Morrissey. On its self-titled debut, The xx strips down R&B music to its essential elements -- putting an emphasis on forward-thrusting beats and soulful, melismatic vocals -- and pairs it with indie-rock shadings like plinking guitar notes, buzzy synthesizers and otherworldly electronic effects. The result is a batch of songs that are sometimes haunting and always riveting.

At first, "Crystalised" resembles an undercooked demo, as singer-guitarist Romy Croft and guitarist Baria Qureshi strum gloomy notes over muted, rumbling drums. But then the group glides into the chorus and the sudden shift to a bright, melodic key feels jarring in the best sense possible. It's like looking at one of those Magic Eye paintings: Suddenly, everything comes into focus.

Throughout "Crystalised," Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim narrate the conversation between two damaged lovers who are torn apart by addiction and their own insecurities. "You say I'm foolish," he sings; "I wish the tide would take me over," she counters. Sid and Nancy and Kurt and Courtney would've related to this kind of tragic story. And, given The xx's punk-flavored R&B groove, maybe Ike and Tina would have, too.

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Kevin O'Donnell