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"Crystalised" presents the inner monologues that persist in relationships

The xx's debut single explores the fragility of love through two partners' ever-present individual thoughts.

In the past couple years, I've found myself (re)discovering a lot of 2000s music. I can completely understand why I've been compelled to do so, particularly at this point in my life. Firstly, on a more general basis, nostalgia for a certain time period tends to start kicking in once that time period was at least a decade ago, if not longer. When it comes to music, this timeline seems particularly true. Then, there are the more personal aspects of why I feel this way. It's not just that I like the 2000s music with which I'm more familiar; it's also that I largely missed out on hearing the most mainstream songs of that era, because I only really got into music and listening on my own time in the early 10s.

One of the acts that has stood out to me the most from this exploration of the aughts — or, as the Brits call it, the noughties, a term I greatly prefer — is the xx, the London-based indie group who burst onto the scene near the decade's end with their debut album xx, which won the 2010 Mercury Prize as the previous year's best album from the British Isles. There's something I've come to find really compelling about the record's style: minimal but featuring reverb-heavy guitar, with a welcome dose of electronica through Jamie xx's production. Add a narrative lens of young love to the mix, and xx stands as an album that serves as a soundtrack to adolescence and early adulthood. I'm fond of the whole record, from its still oft-played "Intro" to the bonus-track cover of Aaliyah's "Hot Like Fire," but today I'm focusing on the lead single "Crystalised." The song's back-and-forth lyrics provide two perspectives on love and fighting through problems to not only find, but keep it; the ultimate collision of those perspectives demonstrates how even within a relationship, each party maintains their own viewpoint on love and what it means to them.

Before the lyrics even begin, though, I hear their alternating points of view being referenced through the dual guitar lines in the introduction. The two parts, played by Romy Madley Croft and Baria Qureshi, interlock but also never quite play together, and they therefore retain their independence despite sounding at the same time. In hindsight upon hearing the whole song, the introduction strikes me as an instrumental representation of how Romy and Oliver Sim "sing past each other," rather than to each other — as if each of their characters is playing one of the lines.

The "singing past each other" perspective, present throughout the entire record, illustrates the different points of view and outlooks different people can have while going through the same situation. xx's lyrical focus pinpoints love as the force that shapes the various lyrical (and instrumental) angles, with "Crystalised" capturing two lovers each thinking about how they've tried to take their relationship with the other slowly. The song's title comes into play in the first lyrics, through a metaphor that hints at the power of the characters' love:

You've applied the pressure
To have me crystalised
And you've got the faith
That I could bring paradise

The lyrics come from Oliver Sim being told by his mother of how people have their ashes compressed into crystals, but in the context of the song's narrative the image the words give is less macabre. Rather, it demonstrates how, through love, people are motivated — if not pressured internally and externally — to better themselves for the sake of those for whom they care. (It also makes me think of the Superman III coal-to-diamond scene, which I guess can be read through that lens when you consider Superman's feelings.)

Both the instrumental's gradual build-up, anchored by an incredibly catchy riff during the "ay-ay-ay" break, and the lyrics present the relationship as a slow burn, but one that is also wearing at each individual. Oliver's lyric that "[t]hings have gotten closer to the sun" and Romy singing of how "[g]laciers have melted to the sea" imply that, in the romance running its course and becoming more intense, not all efforts have been successful, and the relationship itself may be on thin ice as a result despite all the energy that's been put into it from both sides. Perhaps all the pressure that went into crystalising caused cracks that weren't noticed until it became too late. It's a reminder that nothing in any social interaction is as simple as it appears on the surface, and that even those involved may not understand all their various facets and effects.

In the track's final section, the "singing past each other" becomes literal as Romy and Oliver sing their respective pre-break sections simultaneously. With the melodies largely being the same, and both singers' vocals being center-panned, it becomes difficult at times to distinguish one line from each other — and I find that to be a powerful effect given how the xx built the song's narrative up to that point. No matter where the relationship goes from that point forward, each person will maintain their own thoughts on where things are going, at the very least as an inner monologue, which is how I hear both singers' lyrics throughout the song. At the very end, though, the two singers unite on five utterances of "Go slow." With this concluding gesture, a ray of hope emerges as the slightest common ground between the present parties becomes audible. The song's subsequent conclusion leaves their fate unknown; whether the album's path provides a satisfying answer or not is up to the listener to decide.

"Crystalised" encapsulates a quality of relationships I rarely see explored in music, and it relays that "singing past" quality so comprehensively that it brings the characters to life. It's the xx at their best, playing off each other's talents and perspectives to create an understated, yet profound track that is catchy and danceable all the while.


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