I have to acknowledge that I’m a few years late in jumping on this bandwagon. Putting the two bands’ names into Google gives plenty of articles comparing the two.
The pervasiveness of the comparison is striking; it seems like writers have been all the more intent on making it because, unless you happen to have been into them in 1979, hardly anyone had heard of Young Marble Giants, or their only album, Colossal Youth. I hadn’t, so I feel indebted to these comparisons, however shallow the majority seem, for leading me to a great band.
It’s not that the finished output of the groups is similar; nobody would accuse The xx of plagiarism.
YMG take in the influence of the punk scene which they emerged from, with their occasionally despairing and disillusioned lyrics and abrasive chord changes. Elsewhere, the lyrics are like nostalgic in-jokes, as on ‘Salad Days’: ‘Think of salad days, / They were folly and fun, / They were good, they were young.’
The xx’s work, meanwhile, abounds in barely-disguised sexuality, reflecting an introverted earnestness which YMG didn’t share. Essentially, you never find yourself wondering what The xx are talking about.
Their aesthetics are similar, however, if inflected by different eras. Both couple minimal instrumentation to sparse percussion, with YMG’s more rudimentary clicks and pops being the result of using tape loops rather than digital samples.
The similarity in the way that the bands use empty space to draw attention to the fragility of the arrangements is striking, the crucial difference being that the current fashion for heavy reverb means that the space seems to surround The xx’s compositions where it gets in between the parts of YMG’s tracks.
It is uncertain whether The xx had heard YMG, but in an interview with The Telegraph singer Romy Madley Croft said that she’d ‘never even heard of the Cocteau Twins until a year ago,’ so the similarity may well be coincidental. If so, it’s a happy one, because it has prompted a renewed interest in a band that may otherwise have slipped into obscurity.