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Monday, September 10, 2012

The XX: Coexist (Release Date: 9-11-2012)

        It's always risky to declare something a classic before it's even five years old, but damn if The XX's 2009 debut doesn't feel like one already. Entering a musical climate that, on levels both mainstream and independent, largely favored excess and bombast, XX's militant minimalism sounded ironically enormous. Co-vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim whispered lyrics as though sharing the sexiest of secrets, hip-hop style beats arising out of nowhere only to be swept away by twinkling guitar lines, and all with that irrefutable air of nighttime. It was simple vibe, one stripped of all additives and distractions, direct and precise to the point of revelation. Even the disc's detractors would be foolish to deny just how distinct the band's sound was upon impact, or how much it has effected certain spheres of the music world ever since. Lauded upon introduction and worshipped in hindsight, XX placed its parent band in a precarious position, one atop a Jenga tower that would need only a so-so sophomore effort to come crashing down.

        The XX knows this all too well. This feeling of nervousness, of reluctance to make even one false step, permeates everything that occurs on Coexist. While playing it safe and treading lightly has always been this band's preferred mode of operation, their latest record takes this thesis to even further extremes, canyons of quiet, empty space littered across almost every track. Opener Angels gets things going in an appropriately cavernous manner, strung together on Madley Croft's smokey declarations and sliding guitar, employing drum machine in the least intrusive way imaginable. As with just about every song on their rookie campaign, Angles seems to end before it's even developed, only revealing its perfected, 'less is more,' zen when you discover the track rattling around in your brain hours later.

        While Coexist is probably at its most stripped-down right out of the gate, it's not exactly like things get complicated thereafter. Try lofts around on little more than a siren-like guitar line and a softly reverberating beat, while Missing unearths a way to make Madley Croft's voice even more enshrouded in fog, which previously seemed impossible. Only Reunion, with its skittering steal drums and mid-song change-up, really dares to raise its voice above the hush, but even then, they're only using inside voices. It's enough to make Crystalised sound like it might blow out your speakers by comparison.

         In other words, those who struggled with XX's lack of sonic density will find even less to enjoy here, but those who fell in love with their first disc might have a brand new affair on their hands. This batch of songs clings to the subconscious even more immediately than did its predecessor, highlights like Chained, Sunset, and Tides emblazoned into your psyche upon first listen. This emphasis on anti-adornment deprives Coexist of that sense of continued discovery that embodies many of the best albums, but my god, if it isn't addictive when you first get your paws on it. Devotees of 2009's landmark might not believe that The XX circa 2012 can quite stand toe-to-toe, but any further complaints are largely erroneous. This is the exact same band, placing producer Jamie XX's stilted hip-hop beats a tad higher in the mix, turning the volume down from 4 to 2, and neglecting to further tamper with the formula. That might feel a bit conservative from a band we're used to thinking of as pioneers, but that doesn't exactly change how it sounds in your ears, now does it? If you dig The XX, it's a must-have.

Grade: B+


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