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There’s a slight resemblance between the album art of XO’s debut full-length Heart and the foggy bubblegum-pink cover of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. MBV’s nuanced shoegaze is also reflected in California-based XO’s sound, but the group draw more from their own pop-punk roots and indie-rock sensibilities on Heart than from any dark webs of noise created by bands like MBV.
“The songs are mostly love songs, sometimes anti-love songs, and they deal with death and the ever-dying heart, both figuratively and literally,” says XO’s Jeff Turner, who sits at the core of the band alongside brother and fellow guitarist/vocalist Jake Turner. Both are also members of pop-punk group Say Anything, and influence is obvious on Heart.
Album-opener Instrumental 2, like virtually every other track, is flooded with almost-shoegaze guitar work. It’s a consistent but often lacklustre aesthetic, running at one energy level or being overpowered by its static guitars. The slightly abrasive tones created are only momentarily interesting, like when contrasting tones overlap in the soaring outro on Helll and the semi-surf-rock spots on Fault.
With single-word song titles and no track over four minutes, Heart’s half an hour brushes past in an instant. Guitars dominate, to the downfall of the album’s overly distant and subdued percussion. There’s no doubt that Heart possesses an upfront lyrical honesty, but lines like “You’re the sweetest girl I know and that’s saying something” feel better suited to top-40 pop than caught in a guitar-heavy wall of sound.
That said, it’s encouraging to see XO putting out a full-length release, given that it has been almost six years since their 2008 EP Some Day. Heart is an album with a youthful energy, but also a niggling nervousness. The band have combined the radio-friendly hooks of indie-rock with the dense textures of almost-shoegaze, but it’s a combination which still feels jarring. XO may be just another one of those bands trying to find a balance between two disparate musical worlds.