XXXX is the group’s third album, and within the first few bars, it’s clear that everything is different. Opening track “There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)” begins with a chiming electric paino and singer Becky Ninkovic’s dark, dramatic vocals. The instruments enter gradually as the song eases into a mid-tempo dance groove that doesn’t properly break out until the two minute mark. This slow burner sets the the tone for the album, which emphasizes dynamic, carefully-constructed arrangements over mindless energy. When Ninkovic sings “Sex, drugs, boring” on “Glory,” it sounds like a mission statement—this time, the band is taking it seriously.
As well as undergoing a stylistic makeover, YSP!WSD! has shifted its lyrical focus away from politics to more personal matters. The title XXXX is a code for L-O-V-E, and it provides the thematic focus for the entire album: three songs feature the word “love” (or, rather, “XXXX”) in the title, and even those that don’t usually feature the word at some point during the lyrics. The honeyed 80′s ballad “Laura Palmer’s Prom” (based on a character from Twin Peaks) has a refrain of “My heart needs a love dance.” The Bat for Lashes-style dance rocker “Dark Days” contains the line “I love your love light” in its chorus.
mp3: “Laura Palmer’s Prom”
Equally as important a difference in the group’s sound is the improved production. Unlike previous albums, which sounded raw and hurried, XXXX is sonically gorgeous. Recorded over several months with producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan and Sara, the New Pornographers), the crystalline electronics and thundering drums finally do justice to the band’s potential.
XXXX is so much better than YSP!WSD!’s previous albums that it almost sounds like a different band entirely. There are still glimmers of the band’s previous style: the gang vocals during the breakdown of “Cosmic War Avengers” or Ninkovic’s “One! Two! Three! Four!” yells on “Make XXXX.” But for the most part, the band sounds nothing like the one that demanded listeners to Hit the Floor! on its 2005 debut. A lush synth pop gem, XXXX is a must-listen.