Saturday, December 1, 2012

Album Review: The xx – Coexist (2012)

Following on from a more than useful debut album a few years back, the new full length release from The xx was eagerly anticipated in my house earlier this year. When it arrived – as Coexist – I have to say my initial feelings about it were less than complimentary, and in many ways it felt lightweight and throwaway in context to its benchmarking predecessor. I sat with it, gave it time, let it breathe, and digested it some more.

Yes, first impressions were that Coexist was a little too minimalist and bland for its own good, but it’s the sort of album that we’ll perhaps look back on in 18 months time and celebrate it for the vast number of remixes it spawned. If ever an album felt ripe for the addition of a little gloss it’s this one. Perhaps. I guess that will all depend on the quality of those remixes.
A compact 37-minute 11-song crawl, the album is so “samesy” at first, some tracks feel almost indistinguishable from others. It also feels just a little underdone, not much more than an exceptional demo, and a harsh critique of it would suggest it has the words “unfulfilled potential” written all over it. Coexist feels like it forms the core of a really solid release, but it lacks the requisite bite or substance to lift it beyond the ranks of the ordinary. Perhaps that’s where those remixers and producers will come in. Harsh? … again, perhaps.

If that is indeed harsh, then it is a harshness that comes from a sense of expectation. Maybe even over expectation. And if that expectation was based solely on what we got on the debut, then it was rather ill-conceived all along … on the basis that the first release was also a very stripped back, oftentimes sullen affair, why would the follow-up be any different? … if it’s party rock n roll yer after, then The xx is not the band for you.
What Coexist most certainly is though, is a Break-Up album. Possibly even The Break-Up Album of the year … if that sort of thing is your bag. Coexist is a bit like a wake. A brutal autopsy on a failed relationship. A death-by-one-thousand cuts, heartfelt, grievous journey into a world of heartache and despair. A one-way, one dimensional journey at that …  so don’t go looking for any last minute reconciliation, or anything remotely resembling a happy ending.

C'mon give us a smile ..
The boy/girl vocal thing is pivotal to everything of course, set as it is against a backdrop of vast open space, minimalistic chord structure, and the occasional tickle of a solitary keyboard. But this one is all about the songwriting, those inescapably bleak lyrics, drenched in self reprisal, with only the occasional flicker of denial, hope, or promise being allowed to peek through the multiple layers of inward pointing gloom.

I suppose it has actually grown on me (insert your own wart joke here) the more I’ve listened. It’s just so damned hard to take in one sitting, that’s all. Individually, buried within playlists, alongside more uplifting material, these songs tend to shine. Collectively though, across as long a half hour as you’re ever likely to wish for, these songs blend into one. A whole that is not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts.
So it’s a Break-Up album, no more, no less. I’m sure it’ll all feel so much better in the morning. Always does, apparently.

Er, the “highlights”: ‘Angels’, ‘Chained’, ‘Fiction’, ‘Sunset’, and ‘Swept Away’ …

Here’s a remix of ‘Chained’ … albeit one that is rather at odds with the ethos of the original version (upping the bpm factor tends to do that), but it is also a version that adds so much more texture and colour to the version found on the album, and it best exemplifies my earlier point about the potential of many tracks off Coexist to be extracted and refitted:

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