What did you exxpect?
The xx do not owe us anything. That is something to keep in mind when listening to Coexist, their long-awaited second long player.
The strange, often complex relationship between band and fan is not one based on the owing or paying of debts. Expectation is the problem of the listener, not the band. But, when you wait three years after releasing a masterpiece, you may be asking for trouble.
That being said, as a single, standalone piece of art, Coexist is another mesmerising collection of songs, easily up there with their debut, maybe even surpassing it.
The building blocks that made that debut so special are all laid out once again, while experience has enabled producer and band member Jamie Smith to bring them together more seemlessly than ever. The trippy beats that slip in and out, the subtle and enchanting sounds that rise and fall and shift and morph with each listen, the juxtaposition of the cold, sparse arrangements with the warm, intimate lyrical content. The breathy and wondrous dual vocals. Atmospheric, hypnotic, elusive, lush - it’s all here.
This is in many ways an album that no other band could make. Sunset is up there with anything on xx and possibly the best ever combination of everything they do so well, Angels is a Romy laying herself truly bare for the first time in devastating fashion, while Oliver gets his chance on Fiction. And Jamie Smith brings in those delightful steel pans from his solo work on Reunion. After five back-to-back listens (which in no way seems a chore), a flaw is yet to be found in its 37 minutes.
And is that what causes the slight niggling feeling that comes with this album? Have they played it safe?
That is one of a number of interesting questions that this album raises. Second album this and that, the fact their Mercury win came a whole year after the first album’s release, for better or worse, gave them time, whilst simultaneously removing one pressure - finding success - and replacing it with another - replicating it.
Sure, they have had things to deal with. Coming to terms with the mainstream success and excessive touring, losing a band member. But, they still sound like the same amazing band that made that album in 2009. So why has this album, a consolidation rather than a progression, taken three years to produce?
A Kid A-style game-changer on only their second release would be too much to expect some might say. And they’ve created a sound that has brought the oh-so-rare combination of being unique, credible and popular, so why walk away from it?
But the feeling remains of what could have been? What more are they capable of? What can we expect from them next?
After waiting three years, the niggling lingers long after listening, like a soaring xx guitar. Angels was such a brave first single that it hinted at a complete disregard for expectation. Maybe by album three, they will follow through. Till then, we have a consistently beautiful piece to sooth and satiate us. What more could we expect?