The XX release their sophomore effort "Coexist"
The album cover to The XX's new LP, Coexist. www.kexp.com
Back in 2009, The XX entered the indie music scene from the deep voids of space, carrying with them an extrinsic and alien allure that few other groups possess. Building off the trite formula of solo focused, indie-balladry, the now trio's self titled debut, "xx," reinvented love songs by doing what very few pop groups have done before: focusing on two perspectives. By meshing the rich intonations and electric melodies of vocalist/bassists Oliver Sim and lead guitarist/vocalist Romy Croft with the vibrant, synth-woven terrain courtesy of DJ/producer Jamie "xx" Smith, The XX were able to generate multiple folds of emotional and musical duality. While pieces like "Stars" tackle the celestial void absorbing the teetering sexual relationship of a young couple, a few tracks away, "Islands" employs an unbearably catchy guitar jangle to promote it's theme of finite, romantic fulfillment. It is a juxtaposition like this that made "xx" so deeply fulfilling, leading to one of the most widely celebrated albums of the past ten years. Now, roughly three years later, The XX have returned with "Coexist," a completely different album that once removed from the colossal shadow of its near-flawless predecessor, is a deep and rewarding listen that will keep you mesmerized.
The most notable difference between "xx" and "Coexist" is the absence of structural support. After several months of non-stop touring, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi left the group in late 2009 due to exhaustion and "creative differences," that had been heightened during the quartet's sudden rise to stardom. On "xx," it was Baria's studded, electric framework that helped provide the album with its easily graspable, pop sensibility. With that component missing, The XX had a choice between mimicking the work of their partner to produce a similarly fleshed out record and taking a different approach entirely. "Coexist" follows the latter to the minimalistic extreme.
While sound musical foundation was at the forefront of their first album, the key focus here is atmosphere. This album is vast in every sense of the word, allowing for every note, every beat and every pin drop to resonate to its fullest effect. Lead single and album opener "Angels" places the listener in an open void of phonic terrain, slowly filling the empty pockets with watery guitar melodies and Croft's celestial vocalization. The sounds and rhythms gently collide with one another, swelling into thick, liquid progressions that slowly drip out of existence. It may not be as catchy as "Crystallized," but its function as an opiate, fuzzily dissolving the listener in an ocean of resonance, is equally as important.
"I believe that that the minimal approach adds a layer of atmosphere that didn't exist previously," said junior Bob Nisco about The XX's new style. "I think the production technique is unique and one that rewards the listener in the end. The XX spent time removing elements, rather than adding them, to polish their signature sound even further."
And while the idea of "removing elements" may seem bizarre, know that "Coexist," is more than just empty space, mainly due to mechanical compulsions and technical genius of Jamie Smith. "Missing" finds Smith working dusty atonal drones through rolling smoke clouds of swollen ambience, while "Reunion" spices up the bleak with steel drums and a scattered two-step beat. Indeed, Mr. "XX" has developed quite the economy for amorphous support, undoubtedly becoming the key focal point of the album.
The best tracks here, however, are those that carry the thematic backings of their previous work to their new acquired direction. "Fiction, when we're not together/mistaken for a vision/ something of my own creation," croons a broken Sim on "Fiction," still attempting to retrieve the shattered remains of where "Fantasy" left off - emotionally dealing with a failed relationship. Except this time, instead of building a fabricated world to block out the pain, "Fiction" throws any lost sense of optimism to the wind and tackles the pain head on. Similarly, "Chained," the probable second single, acts a perfect couple to "Crystallized." Whereas "Crystallized" reads as a dialogue between two lovers discussing the possibilities of a future relationship, "Chained" finds those two individuals at the opposite spectrum, prying each other for an explanation as to why their intimacy no longer exists.
However, for all its beauty and ability, there are some drawbacks worth noting. The major criticism of "Coexist," is that it simply doesn't match up with the excitement of previous work. Unlike "xx," "Coexist" isn't nearly as universal in its applicable diversity: there is no pump-up equivalent to "Intro," or something as easily relatable as "VCR." The absence of these easy-access tracks will certainly leave many disappointed, especially those who are not akin to electronic or ambience.
"The problem is that their first album was just so strong, it had such a balance and flow, that is very uncharacteristic of a new upstart band that I just expected even more from them in their second album," junior Anna Dellomo said on "Coexist." "They didn't seem to be able to keep up with the standard they had already set."
Undoubtedly, "Coexist" is not on the same level as the now legendary self-titled debut. However, it is still a deeply rich and rewarding listen that once removed from the presence of its predecessor, can be appreciated as a more than respectable independent body. It may not be the best album of 2012, but "Coexist," will keep you emotionally engaged for a while.
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