Tuesday 4 September 2012

The xx - Coexist

Ever since The xx's debut album 'xx' won the Mercury Prize back in 2010, there's been huge hype for their follow-up, 'Coexist'.  Perhaps the hype is too big for such minimalist shoulders.

'xx' was an iconic album - from the distinctive cover art, to the overuse of Intro on TV adverts (and its sampling in Rihanna's Drunk on Love) and festival favourites such as VCR, Crystalised and Islands.  The band's style is idiosyncratic and although their brand of minimalism is repeated in each track, 'xx' certainly had some individual tracks.  That said, was it an album deserving of such high praise?  No.

That's not to say there is nothing praiseworthy in their sound.  Each song is precisely crafted, each tiny percussive thud, crystalline synth and mournful lyric chosen for specific reasons.  'Coexist' follows in the footsteps of 'xx' albeit with a slightly more electronic slant, each track a veritable moodpiece that haunts more than it excites.  The production is bare, leaving the mind to ponder the space between the music: the words unspoken, the notes unplayed.  Lyrics such as Missing's "my heart is beating in a different way" are evocative in their simplicity, the track's striking use of silence creating a heart-breaking plummet into oblivion.  It's the sort of music imbued with a dark beauty.

However, I'm going to stick my neck on the line and say this: The xx are dull.

Minimalism is not only at the heart of their sound, but at the core of everything they do.  What that equates to is the same instruments used over again; keys and tonality constantly repeated; a whole album that chugs along at a single tempo.  With such constant minimalism, there's very little for the listener to hold on to from track to track, the album ebbing and flowing as one constant stream.  That's not to suggest that pop hooks should be shoehorned in, but as it is 'Coexist' only works as background music drifting in and out of your subconscious.  At least 'XX' had some individuality.  Here, there's only so much reverbed guitar plucking, heartbeating drums and lyrical melancholy you can take - listening to both albums back to back is enough to drive anyone to the brink of suicide.

More so, the band's music has no impetus.  Each song is a hushed whisper that seems to be misconstrued as subtlety.  In short bursts, there is certainly a haunting ambience on display, the music hanging in suspense.  But even ambient music can have some drive, some variation, and as a whole 'Coexist' just doesn't go anywhere. Instead it just sort of...exists.  Sure, some tracks such as Sunset and Swept Away do have consistent dance beats, but nothing ever reaches a climax.

Managing to stretch two albums out of such minimal material is quite a feat.  But as beautiful as their music can be at times, there's just not enough variety to sustain interest.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Reunion
* Missing

Listen: 'Coexist' can be streamed on the band's website now and is released on Monday 10th September.