The XX – Coexist LP
If any band should be feeling the pressure with regards to ‘difficult’ second album syndrome, it’s The XX. Their eponymous debut was an unprecedented success, scooping the 2010 and Mercury prize and making household names of the teenagers from London. Coexist has a lot to live up to, therefore. Perhaps surprisingly, considering their image, the band claim to have been heavily influenced by the clubbing scene whilst writing album number two.
‘Angels’ opens the album in a gentle and affecting fashion – it’s immediately recognisable as having that XX stamp on it. But while the sound is initially similar to that on their first record, the subject matter is unexpectedly sanguine. It could be one of the most moving and heartrending love songs of the year.
The aforementioned club scene influence certainly becomes more evident on ‘Try’. When Romi sings “I could have been there…” and the various similar refrains which follow, gone is the fragile, quavering voice from their debut record. Rather, a confident and much more powerful songstress emerges, and adds to the sense of ‘Try’ being a dance tune that’s slowed as it passes through a shadow.
The steel drums sampled on ‘Reunion’ add a newfound sense of playful optimism to The XX’s sound, before morphing into a hypnotic club-track towards the end. It almost exists in its own atmosphere, which sucks you in and leaves you completely entranced, flooding your senses. This leads beautifully into the beat-fuelled ‘Sunset’, which cranks the tempo up further, and for a moment the more upbeat tone from this double-salvo threatens to transform Coexist into a happy record – surely uncharted territory for the London troupe? It doesn’t last long, however, as before the track ends the melancholia has returned: the beat is interrupted, Romi and Oliver recite; “It felt like you really knew me, now it feels like you see through me.” The trick is later repeated on the almost twee sounding ‘Tides’.
It isn’t something to despair that the mood predominantly stays in the darker reaches, and if you’re spending your time longing for a chorus to send the tempo skywards, then The XX will probably never be the band for you. History is littered with artists who could mould sadness into an art form (Ian Curtis was never going to write a feel good hit of the summer), and there is beauty in the way The XX master the melancholy. At one point in ‘Missing’, the discreet, piano featuring introduction is abandoned, shooting off with an intensity that makes it reminiscent of an electronic reworking of Joy Division’s ‘New Dawn Fades’. For a moment, the hairs on the back of your neck stand rigidly to attention.
As has already been mentioned, however, the record is much more than a complete vacuum into the gloom. ‘Our Song’ ensures there is a flicker of light to spy at the end: “You know I know your heart, I want to mend your heart. And there’s no-one else.” Gently breathed lines such as that ensure that Coexist ends as it started, with hope.
It’s the perfect summer comedown. As autumn and winter begin to encroach, The XX show once again that you don’t have to strain too hard to find beauty in darkness. Romi and Oliver’s increasingly confident vocals and the unfathomably talented Jamie’s ever expanding repertoire of beats ensure that Coexist is tender, assured and quite simply majestic.
Words by Lewis Parker.