British indie pop minimalists the xx take sublime introspection to a new level with their highly anticipated second album, 'Coexist'
THE XX/ COEXIST
For a band that has a penchant for anonymity (black outfits, minimalistic production and an equivocal band name), the groundbreaking success brought about by their self-titled debut must have shaken the xx to their very core. The album topped most lists of 2009's best albums including NME's and The Guardian's, reached multi-platinum sales, and went on to snag the coveted Mercury Prize in the following year. Their singles such as Crystalised, VCR and, especially Intro have been used on soundtracks for everything from TV series to the Winter Olympics.
Given the overwhelming commercial success of their 2009 debut, the London trio inevitably faced a tremendous pressure to fare even better on their follow-up _ undoubtedly one of the most anticipated albums of 2012. And here they are, the teaming of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, back into the limelight with Coexist, a bold continuation of the band's brand of sparse and skeletal indie pop they have perfected.
The lead single/album opener Angels doesn't stray too far from what we were offered three years ago. Madley Croft takes her time to deliver the forlorn intro (''Light reflects from your shadow/It is more than I thought could exist/You move through the room/Like breathing was easy/If someone believed me'') over spectral guitar riffs and elusive drums. ''Being as in love with you as I am,'' she repeats, casually driving the point home. What follows is more or less a close cousin of this structure, consisting of no more than bass, guitar and subtle percussion_ an arrangement that brings Madley Croft's and Sim's vocals to the fore.
Chained allows this vocal interplay between the two to shine with the help of mirroring lines such as ''Separate or combine/I ask you one last time/Did I hold you too tight?/Did I not let enough light in?'' Sim then flies solo on the following track Fiction only to reunite with his vocal partner on Missing, a slow burner in which a heart-wrenching question is raised: ''Do you still believe in you and me?''
After much sombreness, Reunion, Sunset and Tides allow us to breathe a little with some vibrancy and a slice or two of sunshine. The album signs off with Our Song, a duet that celebrates the kind of profound friendship the band members have fostered over the years. In unison Madley Croft and Sim sing: ''All I have, I will give to you/And at times when no one wants to/I will give you me/And we'll be, us/And there's no one else.'' It's by far the record's quietist and most contemplative composition.
While their debut offers a healthy blend of upbeat and downtempo numbers, Coexist leans heavily towards the latter. The majority of the songs bleed into each other, making it a cohesive listen _ something that can also be translated into irksome redundancy especially to non-fans. However, despite the band's tenacity to cling on to the sonic blueprint of their first album, they still manage to display subtle growth and maturity via the seeming minimalism. So, go on, dim those lights, Coexist will indeed prove to be a worthwhile experience.
Palmy/ Na Ri Ka Ruen Gao
Her latest outing 5 so far hasn't disappointed, thanks to a slew of hits including Kid Mak, Cry Cry Cry, Crush and Shy Boy, a collaboration with Kings of Convenience's frontman Erlend Oye. The Thai pop bohemian continues her winning streak with the album's only ballad, Na Ri Ka Ruen Gao (An Old Clock). Over antithetical fixed-time keyboards, Palmy alternates between lengthening her breath and sucking in air, creating a heart-wrenching effect that fits impeccably with the lines _ ''An old clock has stopped ticking/No signs of life, it's been a while/The old clock that's been stopped in our hearts/Our time.'' For full impact, check out the video that accompanies the song, directed by the man behind horror blockbuster Laddaland, Sophon Sakdaphisit.
Little Mix/ Wings
Trust the UK and its ability to endlessly supply the world with boy and girl bands. The latest to join the ranks of One Direction, Stooshe and the Saturdays is X Factor winner Little Mix, a four-piece girl group made up of Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall. Their second single Wings is big on big-room horns, fervent handclaps, military drums and morale-boosting lyrics that include lines such as: ''No matter what you say, it won't hurt me/No matter if I fall from the sky, these wings were made to fly.'' Nothing we haven't heard before, but we do appreciate its positive and empowering message.
Kanye West, Jay-Z and Big Sean/ Clique
The trio of rap's top players come together on Clique, a highly infectious number taken from Good Music's latest compilation, Cruel Summer. Big Sean kick-starts the game with light-hearted lines such as: ''It's a grind day, from Friday, to next Friday/I been up straight for nine days, I need a spa day,'' before Jay-Z does a roll call of his posse _ ''Yeah I'm talking Ye', yeah I'm talking Rih/Yeah I'm talking Bey,'' (and if you haven't already guessed, it's Kanye, Rihanna and Beyonce respectively). West then concludes with typically outrageous and inane verses: ''I'm way too black to burn from sun rays/So I just meditate at the home in Pompeii/Got me feeling Israelian/Like Bar Refaeli, Gisele, nah that's Brazilian.''
Christina Aguilera/Your Body
Long-reigning diva Christina Aguilera takes a break from dishing out singing advice on the US reality show The Voice, and serves up a brand new single, Your Body, taken from the singer's yet-to-be-named seventh studio album. Produced by Swedish hit-maker Max Martin, Your Body is custom built to dominate the charts with elements of today's sound du jour, electropop, sprinkled with a hint of dubstep and attention-grabbing lyrics (in this case it's ''All I wanna do is f*ck your body'' _ talk about subtlety). Given the underwhelming commercial success of her 2010 album Bionic, Aguilera is definitely back with a vengeance this time around.
Sky Ferreira/ Everything is Embarrassing
American pop upstart Sky Ferreira follows up her 2011 debut As If! with Everything is Embarrassing, a cut from her upcoming EP Ghost. The song pays homage to the shiny pop sensibilities of the late '80s/early '90s (think early Whitney Houston and Gloria Estefan) while still keeping it fresh and contemporary. ''Maybe if you let me be your lover/Maybe if you tried then I would not bother,'' Ferreira delivers her layered coo over simple drum machine. While this may not scream ''instant chart topper'', there's no denying that this is one of the most subtle, yet effective pop numbers we've heard all year.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai