One notable feature of The xx’s , game changing debut was its sheer ubiquity. Not since Moby’s Play had an album been so thoroughly mined by the advertising and licensing industries. Tracks from xx appeared everywhere from NBC coverage of the Winter Olympics, to Karl Lagerfield’s catwalk show, to 90210, to the Greek version of Next Top Model. Maybe this was because their sound, a whispered peon to closeness and distance, both intimate and sparse, seemed to perfectly encapsulate the modern life- life lived in late nights through flickering laptop screens, close to the world and alone.
Unfortunately ubiquity goes hand in hand with over exposure, and the prevalence of their music in such disparate locations has inarguably weakened its impact. On new album Coexist, the template is pretty much the same; whispered boy-girl vocals, chimes of single plucked guitar strings, synthetic steel drums and occasional flashes of ghostly house beats- but this time ‘round we know it from the first note. There is no surprise lurking in Coexist- not until the sharp hand clapped beats of Swept Away towards the albums close. Up to then every song proceeds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to, from the sudden pauses in (the admittedly lovely) Fiction allowing a reverb heavy guitar space to sing, to Romy and Oliver’s breathy intertwined vocals throughout.
That’s not to say the songs aren’t good- listened to individually they all have that strong blueprint running through, the spectral beats Jamie xx favours, those shimmering ethereal guitar lines and the haunted tales of love lost. However together as an album it can all get, well, a little boring. Back in 2011, Jamie was telling press that the album was going to be a lot more influenced by the ‘club music’ he’d been DJing- and on the aforementioned Swept Away you can hear that influence. I can’t help feeling that a braver album may have pushed further in this direction, subverting expectations. To be fair though, how many bands follow one game changing release with another? If you loved xx and are after more of the same, there’s a lot to enjoy on Coexist- the band have played it safe and delivered a work that will no doubt earn another ransom in sync and licensing. But changing the musical landscape around them once more? I guess that’ll have to come with the next release.