The xx – Coexist (album) (Young Turks / XL Recordings)
After what feels like a small eternity, The xx are set to release the follow up their phenomenally successful self-titled 2009 debut album; an album which saw the London act form a legion of near-fanatical followers almost overnight.
Following the departure of the band’s original bass player Bariai Qureshi in November 2009 and then Jamie xx focusing his efforts on a remix album for Gil-Scott Heron (‘We’re New Here’) at the peak of the band’s career, speculation about the future of The xx emerged. Upon confirmation they were still very much alive, attention then turned to direction of their music with the band stating in several pre-album interviews that ‘Coexist’ was inspired by “clubmusic”.
Upon initial spin the club music influence isn’t so obvious but on the second and third spins it becomes very clear, particularly on the album’s later tracks. There are no better examples than “Swept Away”, “Sunset” and the second half of “Reunion”.
Their sophomore album is made up of 11 tracks and 37:33 minutes of pure angelic beauty and fragility. Like their debut ‘Coexist’ is dark but never truly bleak. Musically and lyrically the songs are naked, delicate but equally beautiful.
The trio’s sound and style is unmistakable and it’s hard to draw comparisons when listening to The xx. As with their debut, ‘Coexist’ is minimalist in terms of sound but not in terms of arrangement or songwriting – there are some truly incredible arrangements throughout ‘Coexist’.
If you liked their debut you should no problem falling in love with ‘Coexist’ and while “club music” may play an influence, the trio still retain their sound and style with the addition of dance beats tastefully adding a groove to the band’s atmospheric sounds (listen to “Fiction” and “Chained”). Yes, their trademark sound in still very much in tact; a single reverberated Telecaster guitar acting as the main instrument, bass guitar, heavy reverb and delay, minimalist electronic beats and gorgeous dual vocal harmonies.
The album begins with the first single “Angels”, which was first released on 16 July. Only 2:53 in duration, “Angels” plays out almost like a poem based around the song’s heartfelt lyrics and Romy Madley Croft’s gorgeous, breathy vocals. “Angels”, as with ‘Coexist’ as a whole, sees The xx take minimalism to the extreme at times stripping things down to just vocals, ambience and atmosphere. Listen for the R&B/Urban influence that creeps into Romy’s vocals as she sings “they would be as in love with you as I am” during the song’s chorus. A gorgeous introductory song.
“Chained”, which the band unveiled to the public in August 2012, follows next. Led by a simple staccato bass line, Massive Attack like beats (think ‘Mezzanine’) and flavoured by keyboard swells, “Chained” is an upbeat number featuring both Romy Madley Croft and Olivier Sim harmonizing throughout and really hitting the mark during the chorus as they sing “we used to be closer than this” in one of the album’s more pop moments.
Olivier Sim takes over vocals for “Fiction” while the band’s favoured simple reverberated guitar lines combine with big, distorted looped drum beats. A brilliant track and surely possible new single.
“Reunion” is an immediate highlight recognizable by its calypso steel-pan drum rhythms combining the band’s unique sound. Wait for the 2 minute mark; this is one track where you can definitely hear the full extent of the band’s “club music” influence. The addition of synths add an extra layer of atmosphere to the sound while the clever vocal interplay of Madley Croft and Sim during the chorus as they sing “Did I see you? See me in the moonlight. Never, not ever again” is a treat and one of the album’s catchiest moments.
“Sunset” picks up right where “Reunion” leaves off continuing with an up tempo dance beat over dark atmospherics. Combined with the funky bass line in the middle of the track, “Sunset” might just be is the danciest we’ve ever heard The xx and it’s another gem of a song.
As one might expect, the album is lined with stories of heartbreak and there are some truly melancholy moments on ‘Coexist’ such as “Missing” and “Unfold”. From the 1:30 mark of “Missing”, Olivier’s soulful vocals incite goose bumps as he ever so desperately sings “My heart is beating in a different way. Been gone such a long time and I feel the same” creating the heaviest emotional point of the album. Similarly “Unfold” has a wonderfully moving, dual vocal chorus with just the slightest instrumentation. The vocals of both Madley Croft and Sim sound absolutely incredible but Sim in particular has really it stepped up on ‘Coexist’.
“Swept Away” restores the record’s dance pulse and is also the longest song on the record at 5:00. Initially centered around gorgeous piano chords and Romy’s yearning vocal, dance beats are introduced after the first minute and combine with reverb drenched guitar melodies and a funky bass line to create the album’s most up beat moment. “Swept Away” is surely the album’s next single.
A few words of recommendation: 1) listen to this album in the dark or while watching the sun come up, and 2) be sure to give the album at least a couple of spins to allow the songs separate themselves from one another and for the melodies to truly take hold. The production, instrumentation, mood and direction of each song has the tendency to initially intertwine the songs together but make no mistake ‘Coexist’ is an absolute delight and a near-perfect album.
‘Coexist’ will be released on 10 September 2012 (11 September in the US).
You can stream the album in its entirety ahead of its release via the band’s website.
Watch/listen to “Angels” below: