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XX Teens
Welcome To Goon Island Kev Kharas , July 29th, 2008 12:47

XX Teens - Welcome to Goon Island

The first time I saw XX Teens was at a weekender for the now defunct Junk Club, held upstairs at a creaking Hotel on a stormy May night down on the Southend seafront. Almost immediately, their clatter took the room – bass built to rattle eyes in kohl-sockets as drums pounded triple-tracked, reinforced with a sampler should the low-end knock the beat off course (it didn’t). The noise grew together to a crescendo that rolled out into a relentless din until there was little doubt that, yes, XX Teens (or ‘Xerox’ as the modifier was then, before the threat of legal action) were a rock band to keep both eyes trained wide upon, even if the absurdist garble singer Rich Cash dashed across the noise came from behind prohibitive midnight shades.

That was over two years ago now, back in the distant fugue of 2006 – before Junk Club contemporaries These New Puritans struck out in search of dancehall riddim and The Horrors decided their second album should sound, according to those privy, like The Pastels. So where have XX Teens been for the last couple of years and what have they been doing there? “We had to make them look new,” Cash said during a webchat last week of the songs settled on …Goon Island. There are obvious differences between the Teens of 2006 and 2008 – the original rhythm section is gone (though bassist Rich Nuvo’s parts remain on the album) and cartoonish monikers like ‘Dirt Dog’ Cash, Danny Fancy and Uber have been dropped.

But for all the desire to freshen up, the most radical act seems to have been the gathering up of the songs in one place. Where before three, four-minute bursts of rhythm and ruse came and went like freight trains, on …Goon Island that rhythm locks together and in the context of an album the coffee-jargon coming from Cash and co-vocalist Anthony Silvester arranges itself into a thread. On ‘Darlin’ Cash is upset about the loss of a seagull; on ‘My Favourite Hat’ it’s errant Czech Republican headwear he’s lamenting. As such this appears to be claptrap, but when put alongside tracks like opener ‘The Way We Were’ (sample lyric: “Well I remember when we were young, we used to have so much fun, we used to: whoo!… ho, ho, ho… we had love”) they’re exposed as ticks born in the confusion of heartbreak. And to think, when they said their music was about “Love and loss” last year I thought they were just being difficult bastards.

So, even then, back at the Royal Hotel on the shores of the English Channel, surrounded by tragi-glam, monochrome Essexer goth-ghouls cruising for Horror-cock, all XX Teens really wanted was to fall asleep next to roaming sweethearts. Welcome to Goon Island gives off all the traditional signs of a broken heart – there’s the skewed, defiant arrogance of rhythm that stampedes, ballbag bare, through a slew of rebound fucks; the stuporous madness that besets a fortnight soak (‘Ba Ba-Ba Ba’s “remembers you my babe, dead drunk”) and, after all, the reconstruction of an identity torn from its lip-locked melt (“I lost my confidence, I didn’t know who I was, but darling I loved you, and maybe baby I still do”: ‘Onkwara’).

That rebuilding of identity is perhaps hinted at, too, in music that mashes together elements of dub, XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream, tapered electro, Fall-ish chattering, brass and, on ‘Only You’, the tender ache of early Orange Juice. In fact, it’s possible that this is track is the most important on the record, despite or perhaps because for most of its two and a half minutes it sounds like a fine karaoke version of ‘Blue Boy’. On a record that serves as a document of where XX Teens have been since their inception, ‘Only You’ feels like a pointer ahead and away from the past, to the freshness they apparently crave, waking up with those kohl-eyed Junk girls as they wipe their makeup off come morning.