The xx - Coexist
Creating a signature sound is a challenge. It's no wonder that most bands tend to be a pastiche of their influences. It's only human because there is a difficulty in isolating inspirations from individuality. Hearing an xx song, there is an instant recognition. From radio stations to sports adverts – even part time music heads register their specific sound, despite not knowing them by name. Stripped back elemental music that prizes space above clutter. Who thought that in this all consuming, post electronic music world, they'd made a masterpiece on their debut with very little to show for it on tab? The question perched on lips is if Coexist can match up to their Mercury Prize winning introduction of their debut.
'Angels', the first single and track from Coexist; with its childishly poignant lyrics, is surely indicative of the right return. They have stayed within the strict sound boundaries they created just 2 years ago. So, it isn't a bold, self-indulgent split from their previous success. They aren't shy of what they achieved. Though their life is untypical, they're still the same people in some respect so Coexist doesn't expound a new sense of personhood.
So what's instantly recognisable is their demureness and subtly. They bumped the status quo of figuring artists as emphatically passionate people, decorated like glam rockers or dirty, dishevelled punks. When Sim sings "why do I refuse you/coz if my feeling's right/I risk to lose you" - words that couldn't possibly be repeated in a pub on match day, they're surprisingly able to connect with people above the teenage love-strung demographic, in such a simple way.
Madley-Croft sings, "Did I hold you too tight?/Did I not let enough light in?," on 'Chained'. Though they prize uniformity in dress and sound, the fundamental excellence of The xx is in their differences. Her light, immature singing, entwines so perfectly with Sim's settling baritone on this track; Jamie xx's (as he has come to be known) ever-intuitive production folds their piece neatly together like a straight-edged, non-creased origami shape.
With all this neatness and continuity, the most noticeable inclusion is the unabashed influence of dance music. The pulsing pace of 'Swept Away', the effervescent steel pan on 'Reunion'; adding these factors surely marks a steady diversion from their debut but in some sense a limited one. Dance music is exciting because it doesn't care for space; it's a 'filled to the brim' concept. So attempting to emulate this sound but imbedded in fundamental space, occasionally falls on a dull, flat note, which makes the latter part of the album indecipherable.
But their ever-present success lies in their delicate R&B trajectory. Like Florence's 'Spectrum', Calvin Harris could probably twist 'Sunset' into some 90s R&B disco sound a like. On 'Missing', the band is probably one extra loop from recreating Teddy Riley's New Jack Swing sound. However, 'Try' is the most exciting venture on Coexist, perhaps even to date. Starting with an eerie loop that props up and down throughout the song, you can imagine how it must have sounded at first conception: fairly busy like a modern day R&B song, they then ripped off the flesh and presented a skeleton, that's still full of character.
On Coexist The xx have proved that they will not meet the same fate of releasing one great album, then dying out. The album is a testament to what makes them great artists: the ability to take influences and mix in some of their own original thought to create that signature sound. They've also remained inspired, and though part of the album is unable to keep up, Coexist speaks and sings in swathes of brilliance.
Purchase and listen
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