RUFF RYDERS BEWARE: This is not a hip hop review. No lyrical slinging, booty-shaking, shimmy-shimmy-yaing or any other instance of swaggalicious-related content will go down below. If you need a fix, check out this debate BBC held concerning hip hop. For those in search of new sounds, read on.
British indie pop quartet The xx quickly defined themselves in the thoroughly packed indie pop scene that their music generally aligns with. The group, which consisted of bassist/singer Oliver Sim, guitarist/singer Romy Madly Croft, former lead guitarist Baria Qureshi and producer Jamie xx (i.e. Jamie Smith), released an ultra-soothing and economically arranged debut, “xx,” which dutifully received quiet, hushed praise from the sort of folks who’d rather zone out to great music rather than argue about it on Youtube or 4chan.
The 2009 debut now exists as a standard for their latest release, “Coexist,” not only because they’re created by the same band, but due to how delicious that first project was. The group, in the most endearing sense possible, created hipster soul: a soothing, romantic swath of music made by people not occupied with entirely pressing matters, but not half-assing their endeavors in any manner.
From the beginning, “Intro” already evokes a sense of musical epiphany with Qureshi’s neon-colored, slide-heavy guitar work, Sim’s thick bass run, and the beckoning horns and crackle-splash from Jamie’s MPC. Each consecutive song, now incorporating the lispy, East End tenor of Sim and the airy, lightly trembling vocals of Croft into Jamie’s indie menagerie of cool textures, places the listener in a state of palatial bliss. Look no further than the hazy surf-rock inspired “Crystallized,” the filet-mignon tender apology “Shelter” or the playful Vampire-Weekend quirk of “Basic Space” for more evidence.
Alright, enough sycophantic zeal for “xx”; time for business. The sophomore release, while instantaneously recognizable as an xx album in sound and mechanics, seems a bit rehashed and gaping in execution. Not to the extent of Rick Ross’ “God Forgives, I Don’t” perhaps, where the artists try to wrench success from a previous formula, but what they’ve produced gives off a sense of shy resistance to change rather than lawfully sticking to the tried-and-true.
This outcome might also stem from Qureshi’s exit from the group in 2010, although the signature neon-colored guitars still remain. Other previous fixtures, Sim and Croft’s vocals, their moody instrumentation and Jamie’s expert production, also figure in the sound just as much, although possibly to a lesser degree considering the noticeable reduction in embellishments. For a band already typecasted as the “minimal indie darlings,” such a turn to a more spartan arrangement seems comical on paper.
But, thankfully, it works more often than it puzzles. “Angels,” the lead single, cleanly ushers in the new sound with only warm, cascading guitar and Croft presumably cooing in her lover’s arms: “If someone believed me/They would be as in love with you as I am.” The percussion receives the most fine-tuning, reduced to a colorful steel drum painting the background on “Reunion,” a stuttering four-to-the-floor beat on “Sunset” or completely absent on “Swept Away.”
Due to the restrained percussion, as well as elements of techno-esque drone that pervades most of these tracks, listeners will easily fade out to the lulling tide… or stay stuck on the monotonous, seemingly excised sound. It works perfectly on “Missing,” a track that alternates between spastic snares crashing against an ebbing synth before a trilling guitar clears the air, whereas the track before it, “Sunset,” has all these elements somewhat stacked on top each other like a sandwich, giving off a stubborn lethargy.
Another point of concern belies the vocals. More often than not, the lyrics on their songs give off a singular emotion or simply exist for vocal flair. Every once in a while both command attention (“Shelter”), and sometimes the performance can overpower all other elements (“Heart Skipped A Beat”). “Coexist” truly offers one choice spot of experimentation in “Missing,” where Croft or Sim lets off a verse while the other wails in the distance. It adds an esoteric depth to their personal style that breaks the usual “mumble, then mumble more” which usually felt endearing on the debut, but sticks out uncomfortably on “Coexist” due to their lack of accompaniment by livelier production.
In the end, these problems seem more nit-picky than crucially damning to the group’s logos. Their new direction certainly requires some time for growth as did the original, and their sound still beats the heck out of many comtemporary sounds based on Jamie’s arrangement alone, but the facts are, as they say, factual. “Coexist” does not suck by any stretch, but it could have been adventurous, or at least more entertaining.
If you’ve never heard of this group before, by all means, give “xx” a chance. You might like it. And if you do, check out “Coexist” and form your own opinions. My enlightened socialites/British know-it-alls, what say you of “Coexist” and the band as a whole? Lemme know below.
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