Album review: The xx   Coexist

The xx – Coexist (2012) 5.5/10

Young Turks

One of the most infamous romantic clichés is when a character commits suicide after having lived what he believes to be the best moment of his life and having attained the climax of existence so as not to undergo a return to the unbearable normality of life – an act basically meant to avoid disappointment. It would be incredibly pessimistic to say that most artists having released a successful first album contemplate such a dramatic choice, however it’s likely they relate to the fear that comes with a sophomore album – the fear of letting the audience down. Clearly, British trio The xx partook in this scheme to some extent in the making of their second album Coexist. What’s paradoxical is that The xx’s initial boom came with a very minimalistic self titled debut album which had an extensive ripple effect all the way throughout 2012 – and all the way throughout their second album. It seems that for fear of disappointing, The xx played it safe and stuck to the voice duo and fleeting synth element that made their fame with no risk taking – we’ll not pull our punches on that one. Furthermore, the trio exacerbated its trademark subtlety and musical fragility to the point where you sometimes feel a song is simply going to fade away and disappear if it hasn’t already floated by unnoticed. Indeed, despite some undeniably catchy tracks such as “Swept Away” and “Tides” the impression the album of leaves is of a homogenous whole.

“Unfold” is a case in point as it comes and goes unnoticed, fading into the next track without one even noticing it. “Our Song” presents the same flaws: however, as poetical as its lyrics might sound, the track is of the least striking, being nearly completely a capella, and presenting no progression building up the song which would have given it a chance to break through.

Yet it would be unfair to overlook the few catchy tracks, which are reminders of the band’s potential but also of the frustration left behind by the album. “Tides” is one of those: the track starts out a capella with both lead singers chanting out bittersweet lyrics before a disquieting rasping metallic sound echoes in the background. However for a song about resigned love, it’s surprisingly upbeat thanks to a catchy beat. Yet a recurrent feature of the album comes and dampens my enthusiasm for the track: the fade away ending. Although it’s consistent with the album’s elusiveness it’s a disappointing end for a song with a punchy beat. “Swept Away” also figures on the podium as one of the most potent of the album although it starts out softly, featuring both lead vocalists nearly a capella. Yet the base picks up introducing a clear cut beat and an accumulation of rhythmic elements that bring to mind Jamie xx’s producer touch. The song grows and grows as a muffled drum makes its entrance, added to a guitar and war-like drums morphing into a truly conquering track.

So all in all, the XX didn’t quite commit musical suicide, especially given how enthusiastically the album is being received on the Internet, but if you set the standards of art according to creativity and innovation, Coexist is a small death – to put it more mildly it’s certainly not life giving you a jolt.