It’s been two years since moody English outfit The XX released their debut LP. That album had the distinction of being my favorite of 2009. As tends to be the case, I approached the group’s sophomore effort with some hesitation. As much as I loved the sparse, emotive offerings on the group’s self-titled debut, I was unsure that they could pull it off a second time. Truthfully, with the kind of music that The XX creates, they could easily have slid into a boring follow up LP.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. While Coexist doesn’t quite meet the bar set by The XX’s first album, it is an immediately accessible and enjoyable offering. Musically, Coexist is not a drastic shift in the band’s sound. Some reviews have commented on a heavier influence from electronic dance music, but I don’t hear it. Outside of the occasional use of an electronic drum machine, Coexist is no more an electronic album than the group’s debut.
Lyrically, the band has taken larger steps. The lyrics remain moody and emotive, but are more directly so than on The xx. In an interview with Pitchfork, both Romey Madley Croft and Oliver Sim noted a shift in the band’s writing towards more deeply personal lyrics than those of a detached observer. As Croft put it, “On this album, we were trying to get complex emotions across in a direct way. I think I’m being more personal this time [...] And that’s good. Because we’ve got to sing these songs for a while, so it’s really important to feel close to them, to feel like they’re real.”
That kind of emotional complexity doesn’t necessarily equate to lyrical density. In fact, many of the album’s most emotional moments come via rather simplistic lyrics. Take for example the refrain of Coexist’s second single, “Chained”
We used to be closer than this
We used to be closer than this
We used to get closer than this
Is it something you miss
Certainly not a verbose passage, but concise, direct, raw – qualities absent in much pop music, where emotion is so often drenched in schmaltz.
So what prevents Coexist from reaching the same heights as its predecessor? Coexist doesn’t offer much in the way of variety. While that does lend a certain consistency to the album, the songs lack memorable hooks or other nuances that clearly distinguish them from each other. After a few listens to the album, I was hard pressed recall a standout track. The songs on Coexist lack kinds of flourishes present in many of the tracks on The XX, such as “Shelter,” “VCR,” and “Crystallized.” It is, as my good friend (and fellow Popblerd! contributor) Marc Morrison would say, “a bit samey.”
But that doesn’t make Coexist a bad album, nor does it suggest that we should be ready to preemptively write off The XX’s future endeavors. It’s a solid sophomore effort. And although it doesn’t quite rival the band’s first album in quality, it’s a cohesive album that bears repeated listens.
Below, check out a live version of “Angels,” the first single from Coexist.
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