The Mercury-prize winners scored a smash with their eponymous debut album; is their follow-up an extension of the measured atmospherics of that first record?
The XX are a band mired in relative mystery. Since they first appeared in 2009, the four (now three) figures, all clad in classic rock black, stood perfectly still, barely seeming to play their own instruments appeared a sitting duck in a crowd of indie-rock foxes. But from ethereal vocals, gently plucked guitars and the brittle crackles of a drum machine, The XX delivered an emotional punch from near-inertia – like an indie Kraftwerk – they humanised machine-music and gave us a slow, sad kind of club music that was just a suited to broken-hearted bedroom celibacy as it was re-mixed for raging hormone-fuelled dancefloors.
After soundtracking many an urban TV drama, sacking band member Baria Qureshi (described by the band as “like a divorce”) and giving us the excellent “I’m New Here” (a remix of Gil Scott Heron tracks by Jamie XX) the band have returned with a measured return to form.
Like their eponymous first album, Coexist starts with great patience. In the tracks, Angels and Chained, burbling bass lines and elliptical vocals introduce us to a nagging self-doubt that from earnest confusion and answerless questions, slow-builds to a kind of reconciliation towards the album’s end.
Reunion (featuring perhaps the most affecting use of steel pans ever) Sunrise and Swept Away lift the album to another level with a more expansive sound.
When things DO kick-off, they do so in style. Reunion (featuring perhaps the most affecting use of steel pans ever) Sunrise and Swept Away lift the album to another level with a more expansive sound. But elsewhere the shadows return. Missing is haunted by static crooning, whereas Tides rides a groovy bass line that hides turbulent feelings of watching a changed lover on their way out. From melancholy into restrained elegy, many of these songs are once again begging to be remixed for a club and given space to breathe.
The last XX album had key singles in Islands and VCR, both featuring great poppy-hooks, but Coexist feels more natural, less self-conscious and doesn’t try so hard to please; it’s more natural, delivering heavy atmosphere through its near-airless style. The XX haven’t reinvented the alphabet, but they have developed their sound-of-Bauhaus minimalism which always hinted at a deeper, more
experimental direction from their first lovelorn wonderings and like many great albums, Coexist works best played as a whole. Slowly it unfurls its central themes of orbit and dislocation; of lovers, their words and bodies, pulled together then pushed apart through emotional polarity. It is a more intimate and more mature affair than their debut, stepping high on the shoulders of the Cocteau Twins. Rarely have eleven tracks about broken hearts sounded so rich and so full.
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