Album Review: The xx – Coexist

Scenes come and go. For small windows of time, certain styles jump to the forefront of the music sphere and bands get their 15 minutes of fame. But with time, new fads come into vogue and the old ones fade into the mist. This timeless truth is evident perhaps now more than ever, with technology in the state it is. But the great bands throughout history take time to break the mold and create music that transcends the daily scene snapshot. They have the foresight to challenge themselves towards new musical goals and to challenge their audience to brave the adventure of following them. In 2009, The xx dropped their self-titled record to wild acclaim. It was a quiet but emotional foray into a branch of indie minimalism we hadn’t really seen yet. The album had its singles, but its perfect continuity made the xx a truly incredible record. Years passed, the band toured, and many people assumed that with record #2, the band would just try and regurgitate the same success. But with Coexist, the xx prove they are beyond the scene. They are going to keep making incredible, dynamic, and beautiful music, and they aren’t going to wait for you.

Coexist opens with “Angels”, the single that the band released a couple weeks before the album dropped. But by all pop standards, “Angels” is hardly a single – it barely moves past a whisper half the time. Jamie only throws in drums as a complement, and only when you are on your knees begging for them. Otherwise, the song is dominated by Romy’s quiet guitar and quiet vocals, with occasional bass contribution from Oliver. The haunting tune builds slowly towards an anti-climax and is over before you even know it. But with Coexist, the xx aren’t about making singles – they are about making an honest album full of feeling and conflict. This is exactly what you get, and any semblance of catchiness is just icing on the cake. Oliver and Romy’s tunes of turbulent relationship and love lost will steal your heart without having too woo you in by massive hooks and power chords. With Coexist, the listener isn’t waiting for the xx to convince them they should care. Rather, the album plays like a daily conversation with a loved friend in the midst of life’s many ups and downs.

All that to say, the xx did say in some of their first talk of Coexist that the new record would be “clubbier” than the first. This has much to do with the fact that Jamie, the mastermind behind the scenes of the xx, has become a widely acclaimed DJ and electronic artist in the UK between xx albums. His limited pressing remix of Radiohead’s “Bloom” sold out in the blink of an eye. His Adele remix has been spun and sampled all over the place. He even got to work on a remix album with Gil Scott-Heron of all people! But the band claims that Jamie hardly listens to Oliver and Romy’s lyrics. His accents on their songs come from another place – an emotional landscape completely driven by sound and harmony. On Coexist, Jamie’s work is definitely felt throughout, but his sparse additions only happen when they are absolutely necessary, and the brevity of his statements makes them all the more effective. Only on later track “Swept Away” does the song become something more akin to what we might expect from his solo work. Otherwise, Jamie’s work on Coexist exists not to distract the listener with heavy drums or over the top production. In perhaps an even bolder production move, Jamie chooses to highlight the excellent songwriting of his friends and bring attention to what they have to offer.

I’ve hardly said a word about the individual songs on Coexist, but there’s a reason. Much like the first album, Coexist works best as a whole album. You won’t get the full picture without each individual piece. So without further ado, you should go to your local record store and pick it up immediately. Coexist is out now on Young Turks. Make sure and check out KEXP’s excellent live session with the xx here in our studio and catch them when they play the Paramount Theater on October 6.

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  1. Gabriel
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    you guys are amazing writers, this is one of my favorite album reviews XD

  2. jeffort23
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    At its hollow core, Coexist is an album about two people who seemingly no longer can.

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