Snapshot Review: The xx – Coexist [XL/Young Turks]
Here is a simple question: Did you fall madly in love with xx, the 2009 debut album from The xx? If your answer is somewhere in the range of, “Yes! OH GOD YES,” then clearly the prospect of a sequel to that album gets you salivating with anticipation. If you’re one of the arguable few that simply “didn’t get it” the first time around, but are hoping that maybe something new and different from them will push all the right buttons, let me break this down for you. The new xx record Coexist is for this band what Antics was for Interpol or Room on Fire was for The Strokes: an attempt to repeat success by not messing with what’s already been done perfectly the first time. This is minimalism taken to the extreme; a record that absolutely sounds like it was recorded by a couple people alone in a room. You get the lone guitar carefully plucked note by note, the casually light splashes of piano and occasionally skittering beats that seem like they don’t want to be there. Atop it all are the voices of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims, always relaxed to the ultimate degree and providing the impression they’re speaking to one another in the quietest, most intimate moments life has to offer. That’s the way it was on xx, and that’s the way it is now. Is it just as affecting as it was before? Well, that one’s up for debate. The lack of innovation in their sound, amounting to what’s really more of a scaling back than moving forward, isn’t exactly a bad thing considering they were a very unique band from note one. “Reunion” certainly makes its own mark thanks to some carefully placed steel drum that would otherwise be unexpected. The pulsating and rather sly energy of “Swept Away” feels like a step in the right direction too, the gorgeous piano adding a little Balearic flavor to what will ultimately be the song that lends itself best to future remixes. Everything else is largely business as usual, which you can take as good or bad depending on your own expectations. The opening track and first single “Angels” pushes forth the impression that The xx could well be a slowcore version of Beach House, but that’s a little deceptive the more you listen to the other tracks. The intimacy of a record like this gets pushed to the extreme on “Tides,” a song that starts with Croft and Sims’ vocals entangled and absolutely nothing else. It’s impressive in just the right ways. The tragedy of this album is it doesn’t try to do more. It mostly finds its comfort zone and stays there, which eventually winds up being to its detriment. There’s nothing outright bad on Coexist, and it’s a rather easy record to listen to and get lost in, but it feels like they could have done something more or at least taken a risk or two. The lyrics don’t help at all either, closing off some of the more detailed confessions from the first album with greater mystery and generalizations. When they sing, “We used to get closer than this/ Is it something you miss?” on “Chained,” the answer is a resounding yes on the listener’s end, a response to their lack of open-hearted candor through most of the songs. If you’re not going to expand your sound, you’d do well to at least try and improve your songwriting. So while Coexist is largely a nice and enjoyable sophomore effort from The xx, it isn’t quite the landmark album their debut was. As their current sound begins to wear ever thinner, hopefully they find some new and interesting ways to keep fans invested for years to come.