The xx evades sophomore album slump
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 14:09
Few debut albums have taken over the music industry quite like 2009 effort “xx” by British band The xx.
Between going platinum in the United Kingdom, winning the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for best UK album, being featured in seemingly every other commercial and receiving millions upon millions of YouTube views, “xx” created a massive wake in the contemporary music scene.
Being ordained as one of music’s most exciting new bands is a huge accomplishment, but these early achievements left many wondering – myself included – how The xx could follow up and build upon such a success.
Well, after what was undoubtedly a three-year whirlwind for the young band, The xx finally released their sophomore album “Coexist” on Sept. 10 to legions of hungry fans and expectant critics.
The album certainly cements their status as one of the most talented and attention-worthy bands currently making music, though some of the sense of discovery and excitement toward their incredible sound is understandably missing.
The first and most noticeable difference starts not with the music but with the album cover. The band is no doubt highly self-aware, as the cover encapsulates much of what is different on their new album.
The xx chose to keep their debut album’s template of a singular X contrasting with a vacant background, but this time inverted the background to white and colored the inside of the X with a surreal twist instead of the minimalist black and white of the original design.
Like the cover, the basic template of “simple beat, delicate vocals, distinct moments of silence” remains the same, but they have no doubt refined their style to a more colorful and varied place.
Minimalism is a key word in describing The xx, and this album serves only to reinforce this style. The main difference lies in their use of new instrumentation – such as steel drums on the album highlight “Reunion” – and more club style beats.
The precise guitar riffs that highlighted their debut has taken a backseat to producer Jaime xx’s genius and delicate yet powerful beats, along with extensive use of bumping bass. This isn’t to say that the guitar is entirely missing. Instead, it is used in a more focused and rewarding manner of highlighting the crescendos of many of the best songs on the album.
The vocals remain as perhaps the most infecting part of The xx. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s voices perfectly interplay with both each other and the music. Indeed, the music without their voices, or their voices without the music, would be lost. The desire and feeling of loss behind both of their voices perfectly accentuate the melancholic beats as well as their reflective lyrics.
While the style of “Coexist” is not much of a change or innovation, sometimes the question needs to be asked if that is what is always necessary. In the case of The xx’s impeccable and transcendent musical style, it’s difficult to say more of the same is in any way a bad thing.
This is a fantastic album with almost nonstop gems, and while the shadow of expectation looms large, The xx is, not surprisingly, comfortable in the darkness.