The Quietest Rock Band of 2009?

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 27 2009 11:03 AM

The Quietest Rock Band of 2009?

Eight years ago this week, the R&B singer Aaliyah died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. Six London rock musicians who call themselves The xx (no relation to

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's sister

) have paid unlikely tribute to her,

her 1997 single "

" in a way that strips away the slithering funk and calisthenic beat of the Timbaland-produced original and transforms the song into a quiet, shivering swoon.

I have a soft spot for rock bands that speak softly—murmuring where others howl, tiptoeing where others stomp. The risks of the quiet style are high. Will the songs be so slight and wispy as to evaporate? Will they smother us with their precious delicacy? Will they fail to inform us fully that they are even playing? But when a band avoids these pitfalls, they can communicate a power and heft unavailable to acts that know only how to roar.

The xx released their self-titled debut last week, and it's available for order through the band's Myspace page . While you're there, check out "Crystallised," in which the clicking drums, mumbling boy-girl vocals, and pulsing bass line are so cleanly articulated they don't seem to occupy the same space except on the wordless refrain: The effect is of a band that sounds at once intimate and slightly alienated from itself. We can hear the band's Timbaland love in the minimal, asymmetrical beat pattering through "Basic Space," whose chiming guitars suggest the Cure at their most anesthetized. "Blood Red Moon" is sultry or menacing or both—goth make-out music of the highest order.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.