The xx - Coexist

The music made by England trio the xx can be hard to contemplate at face value because, in a sense, there’s not much there. And, much like their not-trying-to-do-too-much-but-already-iconic-somehow logo, that’s completely by design -– their self-titled debut, which was something of an unexpected sensation, was built around spare, delicately constructed hooks, melodies, and simmering vocal interplay between singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim. XX never, at any moment, flirted with anything that could be considered an “extreme”; only later did we find out that they had an ace in the hole. It’s going to be hard to say this without meaning it as a backhanded compliment –- here goes -– but the singles from that record are so inoffensive and passive that they were almost immediately ripped off and appropriated for advertising. In the way that other bands plying heavily in mellow moods started selling out arenas (Beach House comes to mind), the xx, in a relative suddenness incongruous with the type of music that they were making, were huge overnight.

So, the attention surrounding the group’s sophomore LP Coexist is a major moment for them, and the result is an interesting one. Where many bands have stumbled in the recent past, the group pulls in where others have blown out; though Coexist sounds more expensive (this is mostly based on how much better and weightier the bass and percussion sounds, which is the hardest thing to do on the cheap), it’s a more withdrawn record. Though much has been made of Jamie xx’s rise to critical and industry stardom, mostly on the strength of his bombastic production and DJ appearances as well as his memorably artistic rework of Gil Scott-Heron’s We’re New Here, the band did the best they could to brace for the expectations. Because, the fact is, Jamie doesn’t exactly “drop the bass” on Coexist. “It’s developed, but it doesn’t seem like completely a world away,” Madley-Croft told Rolling Stone. Holding her ground, she said “This is not a dance record,” to Pitchfork. Though certain songs twitch with a pulse that wasn’t as tangibly present as before — “Sunset,” “Tides,” the four-four thump of “Reunion,” and “Swept Away” being the most striking evidence of that fact — they never hit the throttle. Madley-Croft and Sim, lyrically, seem more at ease on Coexist; optimistic, warm lines like “I think I’m ready as long as you’re with me” and “I won’t let you slip away” replacing the more sadsack teenage melodrama of The xx.

But, for those who enjoyed the Sim/Madley-Croft set pieces of that record will find those songs’ kindred spirits on Coexist, songs like “Angels” where the xx flaunts that trademark minimalism. “Fiction” and “Unfold” are hardly even there — while it certainly doesn’t help that all of the songs on Coexist are named things like “Tides,” “Missing,” “Chained,” and so on, it’s hard to construct an ice-cold line of thinking on pure vapor. A tension exists where the listener yearns for them to open it up a little bit, to let the steel-drummy pound of Jamie xx completely take over a song in a climactic way, to pull xx into a space where they haven’t really existed before. It never happens.

“I hope people will just enjoy it as a development of where we were before,” Madley-Croft said, which an an indicative thing to say on the eve of a sophomore release. With those expectations, Coexist is a success; it’s certainly a better-produced, better-sounding record than its forebear. I have no concerns about Coexist’s eventual popularity with both critics and fans, something that should be commended in an age where critical and audience response rarely line up with respect to rock music. But, you can’t help feel a little disappointed by this beautiful, often-boring record. I imagined the prospect of a more immediate, game-changing xx to be far nearer, rather than further away.

Coexist is out 9/11 on Young Turks.

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Comments (80)
  1. in your last paragraph you summed it up perfectly ‘beautiful but often boring’….

  2. Corban, I think you’re missing something here. I think we’re all missing something here. Maybe we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet.

    (My apologies. I can’t let Stereogum live that line down just yet.)

    • I pretty much agree with that quote. I mean neither Centipede Hz or this album has actually been released yet, but everyone has to decide they “understand” it already? I’ll admit to being a little underwhelmed by this one at the moment, but it took me a long time to get into their debut, so I’ll give it some time.

      • I think that take had something to do with the fact that Animal Collective has put out so much great and complex music that there is no way you are going to dismiss an album of theirs right away. I agreed with that quote as well, I didn’t get into Centepede Hz right away but I made myself listen to it several times before I made any sort of judgement but if it was any other band I might have just moved on to the next thing after one listen. In the end I ended up really liking it although I’ll admit it’s probably the weakest album they’ve put out in a while.

        Sorry for getting so off topic, I was out of town last week and didn’t get a chance to comment :(

        I actually listened to Coexist for the first time this morning and I can’t really argue with beautiful yet boring. Also, I thought the male singer was Jaime XX so thanks for clearing that up for me.

    • Guess this is why it’s called “Premature Evaluation”

    • at least i can put this record on while my gf gives me a bj – centipede hz gave her a seizure

      • This comment was made so long after this eval was posted that it might not get many plus ones, but make no mistake, this is the greatest comment ever.

    • you are probably right, it’s too excellent to understand yet.

  3. “But, for those who enjoyed the Sim/Madley-Croft set pieces of that record will find those songs’ kindred spirits on Coexist, finding the xx flaunt their minimalism on well-received album opener “Angels.”

    I hate to be this guy but man, that sentence is really kicking my eyes in the balls.

  4. Anyone who honestly expected some big departure in sound from this band was expecting too much to begin with.

  5. I like the xx, sounds like this is good sophomore

  6. it’s like making out with Adams Family-era Christina Ricci in super-slow-motion.

  7. I think this review is pretty on – if trying a bit hard for such a soft landing of “this is good because it does what it set out to do, but also it’s pretty boring.” In the end, for some reason this set of songs, though better produced and totally similar in style, is just kinda boring. Maybe the songs themselves aren’t as good?

  8. The thing here is this…what exactly did we want these two to sonically elevate to anyway? I mean, if they tacked on cymbals or epic orchestral strings crashing at each songs apex, well then we just have another Beach House, only more depressed. This is who they are…problem is that their first album was such a presumed ‘set up’ for future growth, we think the logical next step would be bigger and its not gonna be, so we’ll just let settle for some Christoff XX Booty Remix somewhere down the line to quench that for us.

  9. The hardest kind of debut album to follow up is not necessarily one that is obviously great (tho’ The xx’s debut was certainly that), but one that arrives with a fully-formed, zeitgeist-capturing sound. Those bands can usually come back with a solid second album that replicates the sound of the first to reasonable acclaim, but the bigger test is coming up with something new for your third album. Compare what R.E.M. and Pavement did with their respective third albums to, say, what the Strokes and Interpol attempted more recently with their’s.

    I am fascinated to see where The xx’s story goes from here.

  10. In regards to the part where they say “this is not a dance record”.

    Was that ever a presumption?

  11. this could be their neon bible and the next one will be amazing or this might be their room on fire, and its all downhill from here. Either way — sophtware slump

  12. Shit sandwich.

  13. Needs more xylophone.

  14. Just not that memorable. I’ve listened to it 3 times and can barely remember what the songs sound like. It doesn’t have any great stand out tracks like the first one either. I love the xx, but this was a disappointment.

  15. I’m glad I’m not alone on this one. Upon first listen I stepped out mentally. Its not that its terrible, it’s just… really boring. Disappointing after such a solid debut.

  16. ill said it again: this is the instagram generation’s far more boring Everything But The Girl.

  17. I just could not find myself getting all excited for this album after listening it 20 times. It just felt like a drag at some parts especially with Jamie’s production being so muted, which resulted in some parts going into an almost ‘a cappella’ style . I dunno, perhaps people will get on this, but for this album to take them three years to make, kinda of underwhelming setting down your tone even more.

  18. “sunset” is pretty great, and i like “chained” a lot. the songs are heavier emotionally and that appeals to me, but they’re still about 4-month relationships and being 21.

    these guys need to have their hearts broken.

  19. Proofread, Gum. A few grammatical errors throughout this piece. But anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to the new record. I think I can live with this being, “beautiful, (but) often-boring”.

  20. I guess I’m the only one who is complete over-enthusiastically enraptured by this album.

    I love it but I also love music that some would consider boring :/

    Anyway… I love it!

  21. should have been called the zz

  22. When I played my friend’s Blonde Redhead’s last record “Penny Sparkle,” They thought it was the new XX record.

  23. Thought it was great. The production is higher quality but sounds murky and farther away, matching the lyrical themes. Oliver and Romy have grown immensely as vocalists. This album feels like I’m sitting inside of a train wreck as opposed to watching one from the outside. The lyrics, I’ll admit, don’t have the same sentimental clout as the first record, but I think that the improvements and innovation in the production make up for that. I may not be as enamored of this album as I was of the last, but then, it hasn’t been the soundtrack for any emotional climaxes/nadirs of my life as of yet. And I think “Missing” would do great as post-breakup music (heaven forbid). The biggest mistake The xx made was leading with “Angels” as a single. It’s too similar to their first album, and because of that people are mired in the mindset that the band hasn’t grown. In my opinion, they’ve matured more than I expected: I expected a lot.

  24. this band is the ultimate example of of underusing chords. Every song has 2-3 chords max, and meanders on them for a wisp of a moment and then ends. Even the lyrics are boring. Saying LOVE over and over again does not make a good lyric. The whole thing just feels like a bunch of demos from some sad teens.

  25. I find it funny people are saying this is boring, because what they’re actually doing is pretty interesting!

    Beyond the fact they’ve marketed themselves really well, the musical avenues explored on this record are pretty impressive considering how much they work with. Even then, I’d say this record does give a lot, and what it holds back is even better. First strategically, it’s great they’re not being predictable or exhausting their ideas, every moment is timed and appreciated in small doses rather than playing up to ‘radio friendly advertising music’. Secondly this is also a respectable move, after seeing two of their shows this summer in which the noisy crowd overshadowed the minimal delicacy of their sound, it’s almost like they’re counteracting that experience and causing you to listen up instead.

    Maybe this is me being too ignorant, but I don’t know any bands out there that are doing what the xx are doing? In some ways I feel like their setting tone for a lot of music to come.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I can’t see that. Not when you have groups like Four Tet/Burial/James Blake, who have done minimalist music like the XX.

      • Yeah sure, there’s minimalist music. I guess I meant their whole thing, which wouldn’t be unique when divided up. I mean it’s usually a compound of different things that make something unique. I guess that’s what I find hard to see elsewhere, but then again I can only speak from what I know of.

  26. we really should be discussing we’re they’re going to go with their 3rd album…cover. white on black, then black on white. there’s nowhere left to go!

  27. Their first album arrived with no real warning or context and really caught people by surprise. While this album is moodier and not as poppy, it’s being met with huge expectations. It’s not really fair to measure the album based on your reaction to it (“not as impressed as I was with the last one”), when you’re on a totally different playing field. If you’re bored by it, fine. But you’d probably be bored by their first album if it came out again. It’s minimalistic. On purpose. Obviously, to each his own, but it doesn’t make sense to call it a sophomore slump or anything like that.

  28. Steven Mulipola  |   Posted on Sep 3rd, 2012 +3

    Disagree. This album is a grower. And it needs to be appreciated on headphones, late into the night. If Centipede Hz needs “air”, then Coexist needs “direct contact”; they’re antithetical albums really. It has so many subtle nuances I hardly detected on speakers, like:

    - the Interpol-esque guitar work bookending Fiction;
    - the sweet little loop and hook on Try;
    - the shimmering keyboards before that phenomenal beat kicks in on Reunion;
    - the way the keyboards complement guitar toward the end of Sunset;
    - the interplay between the drums and lyrics on Missing (you can feel the heartbeat); and
    - the centrepiece and pinnacle of the rhythm in Swept Away.

    • This man speaks the truth! I wasn’t too impressed with Coexist until I listened to it with headphones… which makes sense because that’s really the only way I listened to the self titled album.

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