The xx – Coexist

Listen to the whole album streaming here for a short while longer. I’ll put up a link to Grooveshark as soon as such a thing becomes a thing. [edit: Here is that link]
Be aware, Grooveshark is not quite legal. Make an informed decision as to whether or not to use their services; the artist does not receive payment for Grooveshark listens, but the same might be said for Spotify or Pandora

I was initially somewhat underwhelmed. Not every album has to be some grand statement, but at first I didn’t hear very much to listen to in The xx’s Coexist. I noticed immediately its more ambient approach to production and arranging. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not definitive, as their first album was. The album reveals a satisfying, delicate intricacy upon further listening, but I don’t feel it has the staying power of its predecessor. That being said, I like it. It’s touching.

What gave their self-titled debut its widespread and unexpected success was its insidious mix of chill, bass-heavy instrumentation, painfully sincere lyrics, and dancey beats. This vague response, a subtler mix of influences, an eschewing of traditional structure, lacks. It was a choice made possibly in the hopes of concentrating their emotive power, shrinking their sound in exchange for greater depth. Despite this, they retain enough of their trademarks to be instantly recognizable.

No matter the intent, producer Jamie xx’s application of reverb to every single voice in the mix gives it an unintimate sound. A stronger sense of sincerity coming from the vocals could have done a lot for this album, but as it is the production makes the singers sound far away. Physically and emotionally, I do not feel close to the narrators. Is this a metaphor for their emotional state, or did Jamie just recently discover the reverb knob?

But the lyrics themselves: not works of poetry, but statements of emotion. That is, they are the words of people metaphor has failed. Many are love songs in the past tense, granting the album a nostalgia about love. The last track is an exception. Where it would have been at home on the group’s first disc, here it stands out beautifully.

Coexist’s first two tracks are also its first two singles. That’s kind of bad karma, guys. Opening with a tracks you consider powerful enough to showcase the rest of the album is a fine decision, but you have to be careful not to blow your load so early on. As it happens, “Angels” and “Chained” summarize the rest of the album (to me) perfectly: something to be listened to at night exclusively, while feeling vaguely sorry for yourself about stuff.

Songs that stood out:
Try: Some sort of West Coast hip-hop inspired beat coupled with the most poppy vocals on the album. In the hands of a different producer, vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft could be singing this stuff on Top 40 radio. Also, reverb.

Reunion: I like the island feel given to it by the synthesized hang drums, and I dig the house beat they put on it.

Unfold: An example of particularly overbearing reverb.

Our Song: The above-mentioned final track. The subdued instrumentation lends the vocalists power as they recite lyrics typifying their previous album. Here, it is a final lift upward from the sad and the drab and the breakup: “And there’s no one else / That knows me / Like you do / What I’ve done / You’ve done too”.

I am a sucker for happy endings.

I heartily recommend streaming this album, but I can’t bear the financial burden of buying it. Apart from “Reunion” and “Our Song”, there are no songs on which I find myself listening to over and over, not craving. Overall, it feels less enticing than their first, but still more mature. It deserves multiple listens and consideration.

This is The xx’s website.


Filed under Music review, Review

5 responses to “The xx – Coexist

  1. I agree. It’s not as good as their first, or at least it doesn’t stand out as much. But the lyrics are heartfelt and I can relate to a lot of it. You know how that goes, when you’re happy you listen to the beat, when you’re sad (about stuff) you listen to the lyrics. I bought this album vince, you can borrow it when you come back to sc.

  2. Eric

    Nice review. You might like to read:

    (This is from a friend’s music reviewing-and-sharing blog, with contributions from some of his friends who are also into music, myself included.)

    And, you may be happy to hear, I also got out of jury duty.

    • Thanks! First of all, I am pleased to hear that you got out of jury duty. That stuff sucks.

      I read a bunch of professional reviews before and during the writing of this one. I mean, I’ve read loads in my life, but this time I was trying to get a sense of how to write one. Especially reading pieces on the same subject as mine and seeing where they deviate allows direct comparison to be made. Thanks for the link.

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