Review Summary: Though the XX have become better and more well-rounded musicians, they’ve lost much of the chemistry that made their debut so special
In 2009, the dueling voices of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, coupled with backing from Jamie Smith (better known as Jamie XX
) and Baria Qureshi, rendered the XX an international sensation. Their debut album cast the young artists into the spotlight, something that took them very much by surprise. After the album was declared the #1 album of 2009 by The Guardian and #2 by NME, they were given the Mercury Prize in 2010. For a bunch of shy kids who recorded the majority of the album as teenagers, expectations were high for a sophomore release.
And while sophomore slump seems a little harsh for an album that is at times enjoyable, ‘Coexist’ leaves listeners with something to be desired. The deep, seductive nature of the debut seems lost and replaced by an unromantic desire to simply trudge forward into some sort of tryst that neither is particularly looking forward to. The second single, Chained
, despite having an interesting Burial
-esque beat supplied by Jaime XX, exemplifies this lack of intimacy with the lyrical refrain repeating “we used to be closer than this”, a far cry from the sexualized nature of the debut.
While it’s hard to know the creative effect lost by Baria Qureshi’s departure from the band had (Modley Croft described her exit as ‘like a divorce), there is an unrefined element to their sound that strongly suggests Qureshi had a larger influence on the final product than we might have imagined. Powerful moments of silence that made the rest of the album speak more loudly in 2009 more often than not are replaced by a club beat that simply pounds this effort forward. When gaps in the music occur, they are mostly as pauses between aimless notions, and do little to bring sounds together.
Lead single Angels
will be how the album will be judged by many for better or worse. While Modley Croft’s voice is as gorgeous as ever, she can only capture so much of our attention by repeating the refrain “Being as in love with you as I am”. As much as the album is always about to break through, like when the vocalists play off of each other gorgeously during Missing
, the magic feels fleeting and is quickly lost. Swept Away
, one of the most interesting tracks on the back half of the album, rescues it to an extent, but even it falls flat when measured next to a debut track such as Basic Space
A microcosm of the album is described very succinctly with the track Try
. Jamie Smith provides an excellent and interesting beat, but rather than working with Oliver's voice, Oliver struggles to keep pace. Smith is content to showcase his talent - he's evolved a lot stylistically since the first album but that does not necessarily play out well for the band. The deep pulsating bass of Fantasy
, which leads perfectly into Shelter
has nothing to match it on this release.
As one of the more recognized names in indie music, the XX will surely continue to garner a lot of positive attention, they will be on the cover of magazines and they’ll continue to be hounded by the paparazzi. The fame of Jamie XX in particular, whose influence is heavily felt on the album, will only continue to grow. And while a lot of the time he produces some great beats for this album, more often than not the magic of the XX is lost.