Review Summary: Minimizing the minimal.
Take a house and put it in front of an audience. House. Take away the stuff inside. House. Take away everything but the frame. Still identifiably a house. Now take away the frame and simply leave the idea. Not really a house anymore, is it?
After receiving critical acclaim from their self-titled debut album, The xx returned with their sophomore album Coexist. Point being, their debut was much loved because of its minimalism. It stood out. It was the frame of the house, clearly communicating: “House.” In Coexist, The xx has tried to strip the constructed frame from the house, and has left a pile of wood, yet is still trying to say “House.” When you have a frame of a house you can have different houses, i.e. Victorian, split level, townhouse etc. With a pile of wood, if you can somehow communicate house, you will have a very hard time communicating and differentiating aspects of a house.
That being said, Coexist isn’t bad per se, but it is a far cry from the debut. The album overall is more intimate, yet less meaningful. The two singles “Angels” and “Chained” are excellent. “Angels” is the only track off the album sung solely by Romy Madley Croft, and she really stands out. In “Chained,” Oliver Sims and Croft sing about a relationship “that used to get closer than this.” It seems as though the song mourns a failed relationship, but the instrumentation is energetic and doesn’t really fit the lyrics. Later on in the album come the eerie synths in “Try,” complete with breathy whispered lyrics much like that on the rest of the album. The best track on the album, “Missing,” is just over the halfway point in the album. It uses a heartbeat as the beat and really illustrates the loneliness of the song well. “Tides” has a catchy palm muted guitar riff, with an incredibly groovy bass-line in the background that is very fun, but again doesn’t match the lyrics. In the song directly after that, “Unfold,” Sims and Croft deliver their most vocally emotional track, with echoing instrumentals and some reminiscent heartbeat beats.
The album has some knights in shining armor, but overall is a bit monotonous and lacks differentiation. There is no denying that The xx is getting better as musicians, but Coexist is too minimalist. There is nothing wrong with minimalism; I enjoy it. Simple composition can be beautiful and should not be tossed aside, but The xx is minimizing minimalism, and what’s left is a little boring.