Album Review - The xx

Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 4:24 AM
Jake Miller

  • The xx

    Coexist

    Young Turks

     

    So much gets made of the proverbial "Sophomore Slump" that most bands attempt to combat these days.  The xx can not be bothered by all that.  With Coexist, the English threesome's second release, we see a fledgling act growing on their own terms. Three years removed from their fantastic self-titled debut, we find the group maturing in exciting and unpredictable ways.  Replicating the youthful, lovelorn works of xx would be a nearly impossible task and with this album they have taken the road less traveled by stripping their already aesthetically sparse songs down to the bare bones.  The results do not disappoint. Since their eponymous release , producer Jamie Smith has become one of the most vibrant and consistent minds in the industry when it comes to reworking other group's tracks, both on record and in live DJ sets, but you would be hard pressed to make that assessment based on this batch of songs. Last year's entertaining retooling of Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here was insightful and unadulterated fun, even if it was a bit unnecessary.  Coexist does away with most of the 808s and hand claps of Smith's recent "solo" work.  The steelpans are still here but they certainly don't put you on a tropical island.  Instead, we find ourselves on a cold beach with more questions than answers.  The skittering, Burial-esque rhythms of "Chained" bring something great to the table that we haven't heard out of his production in the past. "Sunset" is a two-step, remix-ready track that, while danceable, is quite delicate and moving.   The album has Smith's stamp all over it but it's hard to definitively say where.  It is this vaguely familiar and solid sound that gives these tracks life that reverberates with multiple listens. All that said, the real growth within the group is evident in the songwriting and singing performances of Oliver Sim and Romy Croft.  xx found the two trading verses with understated yet beautiful modesty.  Coexist blows the doors off that coyness and puts the vocals at the forefront.  Croft, especially, has found an entire new range of strength.  On the opener and first single "Angels" we find the singer vocalizing a love note that is touching and sincere.  Her verses on tracks "Reunion" and "Unfold" are absolutely breathtaking in their delivery and resolve.  Simple, clear and direct is what this act does best and these tracks are a testament to that.  "My heart is beating, in a different way/Been gone such a long time, I don't feel the same." Sim sings on the slow-burning and hypnotizing "Missing".  There is a conviction and body behind these songs that is visceral.  Sim's voice has found a comfortable but forceful tone that keeps you listening to his message throughout.  The closing duet, "Our Song" feels like a hymn for anyone that has ever felt truly tied to another human's soul.  It's a difficult task to create love songs that resonate with listeners but somehow this group hits all the right notes consistently without pandering to cliches. Their first album, while heartfelt and intense, didn't quite feel like this.  The confessional nature of this collection of tracks is remarkable.  You couldn't classify their debut as "upbeat" but in comparison to Coexist, it's bubblegum stuff.  Heartbreak and longing have been a theme for the group since their inception but these tracks truly feel like lost letters that we should not be reading.  It's that raw, emotional nature that keeps us, as listeners, captivated by what secrets might be revealed next. -Jake Miller  

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