The xx: Coexist
- While it was always going to be a big ask for The xx to follow up their gorgeous, sombre, synth laden and almost out-of-nowhere debut record with some kind of follow-up release, it looks like the moody, British three-piece have gone and done it anyway. After an alarming amount of people caught on to that record back in the now hazy time that was the latter half of 2009, it seemed like a second helping from The xx would come out sooner, rather than later, if for no other reason that to keep the ravenous dogs of the consumptive public at bay. While seconds turned into minutes minutes into weeks and weeks into years, it seemed like a follow up was going to be a while coming. In this extended absence (extended in the modern sense in which human years feel more like dog years) beat maker and synth manipulator Jamie xx seemed like the most willing to make his own run. While he pumped out a number of fine remixes and other tid-bits, his finest moment came while loosely collaborating with the legendary and since, sadly deceased, Gil Scott-Heron on a remarkably enjoyable reworking of Scott-Heron's swan song, I'm New Here, a quite extraordinary record in itself and one that took Gil the best part of sixteen years getting around to recording and releasing. While the new xx record hasn't quite taken sixteen years to come out, it has taken over three, which as a fan of their self-titled debut, kind of felt like they've been pushing their luck a little, especially since it didn't take me too long to well and truly wear those tracks to a point where some of the shine had dulled just a little. Sophomore effort, Coexist, continues mostly down similar roads to its predecessor, though with the departure of second guitarist and/or Jamie xx's increased explorations into beat experimentation, a lot of the deceptively simple and engaging guitar arrangements from the previous record have been toned down or dropped completely in favour of those tasty minimal beats. Despite the always pretty, hushed, tag-team vocal stylings of vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, it's still Jamie xx's production that holds the whole thing together and keeps Coexist firmly planted in the realms of interesting. His subtle touches, sparse arrangements and love of the slow-burn approach to electronic music are pushed to the quiet forefront. At one point during eerie standout "Reunion", the ever haunting pitter-patter of steel drums kick in and quietly proceed to fill me full of -hesitant- joy. Even with a handful of totally kicking tracks, it's still a slight case of diminishing returns, with the peaks never quite hitting the same high notes of that self-titled debut. While the first record had an excellent sense of pacing, Coexist seems to just fade into this enjoyable, yet not entirely engaging looseness. Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed Coexist, it just didn't quite blow me away like I had imagined. Coexist is the musical equivalent of the film Inception, good but just doesn't quite make 100% sense. Coexist feels like a the record The xx were bound to make, the slightly awkward, transitional move before either a long and profound career making music, or the last death rattle before succumbing to the overwhelming pressure of regular, paper pushing people in their 30s lapping up your music.
- Jay Edwards.