Album Review: The xx ‘Coexist’
The xx gained a little bit of notoriety leading up to the release of Coexist by first streaming the album from their own website, with a map to show the way that the music spread over the Internet and the world. A nifty idea, albeit the map really just showed a nuclear explosion of lines radiating from a Reddit post, but in either case the music has to hold up to the hype.
“Angels” opens the album with echoing, airy guitar, which is a sound you”re going to want to get used to. This is the only song on which Romy Madley Croft truly takes the lead vocal, although she is heavily featured throughout the record, and her voice is absolutely gorgeous. She has a very simple, strong style of singing, perfectly matching a nude and vulnerable love song.
Oliver Sim takes the lead on the second track, “Chained”, and while he can”t quite match the emotional presence of Croft here, he does a totally passable job of singing over watery indie ambiance. The beat here really stands out, layered and sharp.
Beyond that, you may do just as well to start the record over and loop those two songs ad infinitum. Coexist suffers from a total lack of maneuverability, perhaps moreso than any other album I”ve heard in the past few years. We get the one-two punch of both singers featured right off the top, but the music is largely the same, and it only blends together more as we press on.
Which is interesting, because the songs themselves do have the ability to shift and change shape. Any single track from this album could be picked out and featured quite strongly, but there is nothing to set one song apart from the next. If this is meant to be an ambient record played in the background at the spa, it”s a bit clunky, and if it”s meant to be an indie pop album– which it is– it seems stagnant.
“Fiction” features the very same echoing, airy guitar, and “Try” even uses the same riff as its lead-in. “Reunion” tries to evolve towards the end, but it”s really just transitioning into “Sunset”, which is a thoroughly boring song, and both can again be described as showcases of echoing, airy guitar.
Another thing all of these tracks have in common is one-word titles, which seems to be the mark of young, inexperienced bands wanting to be arty. That feels like a strong possibility here, but The xx should not be underestimated. To envision and execute a cohesive album that offers one consistent feeling throughout is valid and worthy. It just isn”t exactly captivating once you get a few songs into it.
There are a few highlights, but they are fleeting, and I feel like we are now grading on a curve. Croft”s backing vocal on “Missing” is gorgeous once again, and “Tides” opens with a stunning a cappella which really exemplifies how will Sim and Croft”s voices work together, but it moves too quickly right back into echoing, airy guitar.
The only song to really seem to stand out is “Swept Away”, which also happens to be the first track with a two-word title. It”s only slightly more interesting when you take it apart and judge its components, but it really shifts in the end to feature a strong, club beat.
The xx have relied here on a very shallow bag of tricks, and the result is an album that is, to my ear, inexcusably unadventurous. They have a strong musicality and an understanding of how to evoke emotion through sound with surgical precision, but it is evident that they are only interested in treating one ailment, or maybe that”s all they”ve been trained for.
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Image Courtesy of Young Turks