It would be easy to write off XX Teens as another of the London exports we love to hate; as American listeners, we're presented with a constant stream of UK imports whose hype generally overpowers their musicianship. (I like the Kooks, but do I like the Kooks enough to figure out why they're everywhere?) Luckily, XX Teens' debut album, Welcome To Goon Island, justifies its existence in the course of its thirty-seven minutes with aplomb.
This album is many things: noisy, melodic, brash, scattered, and at times incoherent. The opening track, "The Way We Were", introduces this band as jarring and unabashedly punk. Singer Rich Cash's vocals begin with a swagger and turn into a gradual sing-song, until the point at the two-minute mark when the fever breaks and the real crooning begins: "I love the way we were."
This sets the stage for the rest of the album, which switches mood, tone, and topical focus without warning. Religion, love, and politics collide with organ trills (the 44-second interlude "(Reprise)"), unabashed yelping ("Round", "My Favourite Hat"), and the knowledge that for every frenetic, jerky moment on this album, there's an equally infectious one. Throughout, the use of horns proves irresistible; with their addition, the simple and singsongy "Ba (Ba Ba Ba)" becomes a dark lounge tune.
The horns also set the stage for the album's standout track, "Darlin'", a sort of bizarro dance-rock dream that can't help but be replayed. From the main horn riff to the overlaying of steel drums with plain old whistling, it's the kind of song that begs replaying. The lead single on the album, it also stands to reason that it's where the band decides to namecheck themselves: "No messing around with the fabulous / We are XX Teens."
From barely coherent to perfectly punchy, Welcome To Goon Island can be hard to digest all at once. Given due time, it becomes a mix of ideas that keep the listener guessing, and that alone is an impressive feat.