Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Coexist by The xx

In celebration of the New Year I have decided to stop ignoring this blog. I hope you all will be back now that I have decided to return! In celebration of my return, I am posting my review of one of my favorite albums of 2012.

Coexist (don't worry, this has nothing to do with that annoying bumper sticker that pops up everywhere) is the sophomore effort by The xx, a band of youngsters who have got lots of creative ideas, and some genuine guitar/beat-crafting talent. Their first album, xx, was extremely popular among the indie crowd. Somehow, they were less enthusiastic about this new album. In my opinion, this unappreciative response is completely undeserved. The xx have crafted an album that still sounds like nothing else; they've refused to repeat themselves, which in itself is admirable.

My relationship with Coexist was somewhat romantic. My parents and I were coming back from Montreal. I had made a fairly consumerist vow to find and buy a copy of Coexist while on vacation in Canada. While I had already previewed the album online, I had to get this on vinyl, I told myself. I was disappointed in my initial search. Most record stores we stopped by were out. Yet I could not give up. Finally, three days before I got back to Chicago, it happened. In Toronto, at the same record store I had tried a week before, I finally picked up a copy. I was thrilled. The beautiful album cover forced me to open it while we were still on the road, just so I could gaze at the pretty booklet. All this before I even gave this album a real listen. Needless to say, I was hooked.

When I actually started playing the music, I was in awe of the cold beats which shook me out of the dreamy soundscape I was visiting. It was great, like a splash of ice water on my face. "Angels" is by far the most stripped-down track on the album, but it does a great job of setting you up for the overall tone of the music. This has got to be the quietest song I have ever heard that still comes from a rock-influenced genre. There is almost nothing going on, yet it is haunting and entrancing. What is there will just melt you. The rest of the album does not disappoint either. It is mesmerizing, the perfect combination of soulful lyrics, simple, echoey guitar and piano, and the mostly-electronic beats. While I can't say that every track blew me away equally, I was in general struck with how well the band kept their minimalist aesthetic without subjecting the listener to boredom. There's a lot of songs that are in a major key (about half), and therefore as a whole the album is somewhat comforting, if not exactly bursting with energy. It really was like nothing else I've heard, a new and winning combination of torch songs and electronic experiment that won me over.

Now I was so entranced by Coexist that I finally wound up going backwards and listening to their first effort, xx. Overall, I was suitably impressed, and yet I still do not understand what others don't like about Coexist. They are quite different. The xx are like a shotgun in their first album. They try many things, and do almost all of them well. It is also much more upbeat, and the lyrics a little less vague, if more conventionally sensual. Nevertheless, none of those traits strike me as true advantages over Coexist. In fact, because Coexist stays so true to form, it has its own victory over xx. Sure it's a bit more downbeat compared to the sometimes fast-paced songs of their debut, but it has more achingly gorgeous melodies, and some experimental effects that are utterly absorbing. It is bleak and yet hopeful at the same time, and I just love it. I still keep coming back months later, when the shine has worn off. Like a true love, even once it has become familiar there is still gratitude and even some of the old spark you thought would be gone after this much time. One more thing: this music really shines at night. Listen in the dark or with your eyes closed. There's a whole other world out there. That's all I can say.

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