In recent memory, no band has crafted songs utilizing silence as a musical tool quite like The xx. On their debut, xx, the then quartet presented their gallantly simple yet poignant sound composed of heartbreaking lyrics, an absolutely invigorating blend of electronic instrumentation and a mysterious chemistry between the group’s hushed vocalists.
The murky presence The xx had was bold; it was the presence of a band that new exactly how they wanted their music to sound. Much has changed in the 3 years since then; not only did the group lose a member during their first tour, but The xx is now a common name in music discussions after the positive reception their debut gained from both critics and ordinary listeners alike. With Coexist, it seems as though the trio felt the pressure of following up what was one of 2009’s greatest albums.
Coexist begins with the promising lead single released earlier this year, “Angels.” By replacing most of the silence found on xx with ambient guitars and echoing percussion, the band showed possible signs of musical progress while retaining their recognizable sound. The track’s pacing moves along nicely with this new underlying layer of rippling sounds and what may be some of Jamie xx’s finest production. Unfortunately, this single is not a fair representation of how the majority of Coexist’s remaining tracks sound or feel.
Coexist’s true colors are revealed immediately after “Angels” with “Chained.” Everything is there: the perfect pairing of vocals, smooth beats and the new underlying tones “Angels” introduced. However, the track eventually reaches a dead end. After wearing out the song’s unbelievable chorus, an unbearably predictable bridge is tossed in to link the gap between the track’s series of choruses and its conclusion. It’s unfortunate that such a seemingly solid track is ruined by mediocrity and thoughtless filler.
“Sunset,” undoubtedly one of the album’s low points, is another track that reaches a dead end with musical ideas. Once again, the unfortunate solution is reverting back to safe and expected methods. The main problem faced by many of Coexist’s tracks is a lack of boldness; a firm idea of what the song should sound like.
There are numerous points throughout the album when it feels as if every member of The xx is trying to pull a track in a different direction. Musical and lyrical themes often don’t mesh as well as they did on xx, which accounts for the impact Coexist seems to lack.
Another major problem Coexist faces is a multitude of weightless lyrics; words that sound as if they were put together moments before entering the booth to record them. Whilst xx’s lyrical simplicity made songs more relatable, Coexist’s apparent attempt to replicate this feeling lead to mediocrity and bore. In essence, rather than expanding lyrically, The xx restricted themselves in an attempt to replicate the definite emotion their debut thwarted upon the listener. This not only held back the potential of individual songs, but the album as a whole.
While containing some of The xx’s worst moments, the album also contains some of the groups finest. Album highlight “Try”‘s immediately haunting tone is spun away within seconds by frothy guitars, complimenting bass and poking synths. Once the two temperaments are individually introduced, they are pushed together to create an emotional juxtaposition that gives the listener both goose bumps and a grin.
“Tides,” one of the album’s faster paced tracks, is unlike anything else The xx has ever recorded. Fueled by a strutting bass line and a solid beat, the song’s sassy attitude is a positive sign for the group. Hopefully future tracks will venture musically as much as tracks like “Try” and “Tides” do, especially since playing it safe didn’t work well on Coexist.
Though it was expected to be an album to remember, Coexist is unfortunately one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Sure, the album has its moments, but the amount of flaws and undeveloped ideas contained within it substantially outweigh the positive aspects. The immense shadow tracks such as “Sunset” create make it easy for one to forget about the exciting experiments contained within a sparse few of Coexist’s tracks, which are just about all that keeps this album from totally sinking. It’s a shame that The xx, a band with such evident talent, was unable to produce a product anywhere near as pure as their debut.