For Fans Of
There seems to be two competing opinions when it comes to the xx: namely group a) those who champion the minimalist English trio as being innovators within an alternative scene choked by mediocrity, and group b) those who slag them off as self-indulgent indie pomp. There’s not much in between, and second album Coexist is only going to fuel these conflicting views.
Let’s be honest, the xx are a band that ooze hipster credibility. Within alternative music circles, it’s ‘cool’ to namedrop the xx the same way it’s acceptable to hang shit on Nickleback. Magazine spreads, online buzz and praise from trendsetters like Pitchfork have pushed the trio into a position where people want to associate with their chic minimalist aesthetic, even if they’re not totally sold on the music. Indeed, hype can be deceptive, which is why it’s important to do away with the bullshit and assess an album like Coexist on its artistic merit instead.
The xx’s debut self-titled album was widely applauded for its originality. From the simple album artwork to quirky pop numbers like ‘VCR‘ and ‘Crystalised‘, it was collectively inhaled as a breath of fresh air. Four years on and Coexist delivers much of the same: whispered vocals, Jamie xx’s house-inspired beats, ambient guitar and stacks of reverb. Given their setup, it would have been naïve to have expected the xx to completely reinvent themselves on their sophomore album, however, that being said, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’ve backed themselves into a corner creatively with Coexist. If the best artists work towards progression, then Coexist is the sound of the xx standing stationary, content with a formula and sticking to it unflinchingly.
But the xx’s lack of stylistic progression is not necessarily what tarnishes Coexist, rather it’s the album’s predominantly unengaging body. While their debut album has some blissfully captivating moments, there’re very few throughout Coexist that leave a lasting impression. Lead single ‘Angels‘ may charm, but plenty of other tracks meander by with little more than an apathetic flutter. It gets to the point where you can predict what’s coming next: gentle fade out, followed by fade in with more whispered vocals and downtempo embellishments. The focus on minimalism renders a majority of the album one elongated, meditative drone – downbeat, introspective and shadowy. If Coexist were a garment, it would be a dull grey trench coat, neglected amongst a closet of technicolour jumpers and sweaters.
While bland at times, it is admirable the xx write music that can transition so smoothly to a live setting. They don’t do a lot of overdubs and there’s no over-produced studio whiz bangery going on here. Their minimal approach keeps things clean: Jamie xx’s deep house grooves provide the rhythmic backbone to Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s heartfelt call and response vocals, a defining ingredient which makes up for some of Coexist‘s weaker points. As a friend so eloquently put it: ‘listening to the xx is like watching a really intimate relationship unfurl’.
Are the xx a one trick pony on its last legs? Only time will tell. In the meantime, Coexist offers itself up as a late night chill out album, one you can throw on and forget about, only to be mildly peeved when you realise it’s over.
10. Swept Away
11. Our Song