Nothing. You are surrounded in a blanket of pure darkness. And then? Well, then there is life. The blanket comes undone and you are engulfed into the Universe.
The first three seconds of "Intro" by The xx make you feel as if you've been holding in your breath for what seems like forever; and when a gong-like sound (re: presumably from the keyboard) kicks in - oscillating between your ears - you are overcome with nostalgia and nirvana, euphoria flowing through your body, for it has replaced your oxygen and blood. It feels familiar — the sound, the song, this moment — yet otherworldly, heavenly and transcendental all together, all at once. Pure as well, if a song could be pure that is.
The keyboard note lingers for several seconds after its first introduction and then kicks in several times again, but more prominently each time around. It loops continuously throughout the indie dream-pop song, serving as a faint sense of familiarity for us to grasp on to. However before the keyboard note even made itself known, there was a guitar riff that led us out of the vacant and hollow black space we were trapped in. When the two notes merged at five seconds, it was akin to watching the Big Bang take place inside our heads; what was purely black space transformed into a never-ending explosion of color and light — all of it was bursting at the seams of our minds.
"Intro" unfolds against our ears. And, the isolating guitar riff and never-ending keyboard note create an uninhabited and unconfined room of possibility for us to step into.
Two a.m. on a slightly chilly October night. You are walking through downtown Brooklyn aimlessly alone. The orange fluorescent lamps guide most of your way, along with the dingy neon signs above diners and 99c stores. The wind tickles your cheeks and each breeze flutters against your eyelashes before lingering away slowly. The moon is massive. Silver-speckled. Glowing, it shines brightly over the city, illuminating the view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River. It feels like an ordinary night, but then it’s not so ordinary anymore. The air has shifted and so has the mood. Some thing catches your eye and just like Alice in Wonderland, you start chasing the rabbit.
Everything is still yet moving.
You are here, there, and you are everywhere. This is where you begin.
The rhythmic beats continue their descent but a backing drum leaps into the mix. It dances with the guitar riff. And somewhat like the lingering keyboard note, the drums’ intervals are quick and pronounced. But whereas the keyboard note enchantingly drew us in, the drum set finishes the job by fully immersing us into the song.
As for you, well, you are still chasing after that ‘some thing’ you saw several blocks earlier. It keeps moving faster and faster, further and further away from you, yet you keep gaining on it, assured that you will eventually catch it. Your feet are no longer connected to the pavement; rather, you feel as if you are running on cotton candy-like clouds, each step and motion soft and fluid.
Finally, the full drum set kicks in — bass, snare drum and all — and the instrumentals melt together. Before this moment, we were levitating between worlds and concepts of time, space and existence, trying to figure out where we were and what we are. The first forty seconds of "Intro" are all about the rise; the rush; the unknown. Here, we have reached this peak where everything in "Intro" suddenly fuses together. Now, the song has truly begun.
The instruments work cohesively with one another, ebbing back and forth like waves. At the same time, you are still continuing your chase after that some thing but have skidded to a halt. "Intro" and everything else starts over again. The guitar riff is on its own. Seconds pass by. The drums flow back in, but this time, their beat is different. The atmosphere has changed and instead of that some thing running away from you, it has slowed down and is now facing you. It mirrors your every move.
At this point, The xx themselves dive into "Intro", mesmerizingly chanting against the noteworthy drums. The group’s soft ‘Ahh’s’ are drawn out, cocooning the space, or rather lack-thereof, that "Intro" has established itself into. In reality, or the lack of reality that "Intro" ‘exists’ in, there really is no space that the song occupies because it’s everywhere and nowhere. The rhythms and notes feel as if they exist in the center of the Universe, before rippling out to every thing and every one.
The ripples jump. It all happens so quickly — almost hard to catch — but at one minute and thirty seconds, there is a momentary lapse in the space-time continuum of "Intro". Just as The xx are closing in on one of their ‘Ahhhhh’s’ and are about to start again, "Intro" diverges us onto a separate, yet similar path. Up until now, we as listeners can somewhat expect the next beat or tone that will come to play, despite the lapses and changes that have transpired. At one minute and thirty seconds, and lasting for about a second or two, the drum beats quicken and bounce against each other; it’s as if they’ve been finally contained into a physical space, but knowing how "Intro" is not meant to be contained, the drum beats fight back, bouncing side to side against the ‘walls’. They quickly align with the tempo and "Intro" continues as normal or what we think of as the new normal.
These momentary ‘lapses’ and changes in direction throughout the song feel as if The xx want to bring us into an alternate reality — and even though the beat is somewhat similar to what it was before, it’s truly not. We’re on a distinctly altered course each lapse and change, even though it all may feel and sound the same. The xx’s quick changes in beat, which thereby shift the trajectory of the song, leave us wondering briefly about where we are; yet, it’s so easy to miss these lapses because of how truly hypnotizing "Intro" is. Instead of questioning what’s happening to us now, we are lured into "Intro" like a siren-like call.
Ten seconds pass and the chase has paused and our bodies are left levitating between worlds. The chants have frozen in time, as have the drums and guitar. For four seconds the keyboard note is all that we have as we simply hover in space. Serenity, tranquility and peace wash over us.
The guitar riff ruminates and brings itself back in along with the chants. However, without the percussive drums beating behind them, the chants feel altered and somewhat empty. They are shorter now in duration and more breathless; they sound closer to a ‘Hhhhhaaaaaaaa’ rather than the ‘Aaaaah’s’ we heard earlier. The some thing you were chasing down the streets now floats before you, mere inches away. The coldness of the nighttime Brooklyn waterfront air allows you to see your own breath as it escapes between your lips. The chants solidify this encounter, but it’s their last appearance in the song for they disappear into oblivion themselves, essentially pausing everything around you. Time and space stand still again. All that is left is the guitar riff that we were first introduced to at the beginning. It starts to change chord progressions as "Intro" winds down, holding onto one last meditative and reflective note for a breath before fading into nothingness. The some thing is gone. You are surrounded by emptiness again.
It has only been two minutes and eight seconds yet you are left with your soul utterly bared to the world; and despite how little time has actually passed, you feel as if you have experienced a whole lifetime.
You realize that this whole chase was not for ‘some thing’.
This whole chase was actually for ‘some one’.