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‘Less is more,’ is not an ethos often adhered to in contemporary pop music. Minimalism is a rarity in a climate where the loudest, catchiest and most intrusive hook often wins out over subtlety. This was never been a problem for The xx, whose sleekly produced self titled début won the hearts of the critics and the Mercury Prize in 2010.
I on the other hand was not so enthusiastic. The album never had the same affect on me as it had the Mercury Prize judges. I liked their sound – but aside from a few gems – none of the songs drew me in. It seemed like a case of style over substance, all very pretty, but where was the meat? Their latest effort, ‘Coexist,’ however, has left me a fully fledged fan and is a testament to how the ‘less is more’ ethos can work to dazzling effect as both style and substance are found here in abundance.
At times I find myself surprised by how much is done on the album with so little. I suspect this is mainly down to Jamie XX, the band’s foundation and solo producer in his own right. For instance, ‘Reunion’ begins with scarcely anything but steel drums, an almost invisible guitar riff and understated, whispery vocals from Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, which is combined with a use of a long rest before a deep bass drum kicks in and the steel drums fade in to the background.
This track is but just one instance of the masterful use of minimalism found throughout. Though sparse, it rarely becomes dull, leaving enough quiet and even silence to allow the listener to reflect on what they’ve heard. ‘Our Song,’ though the title invokes unfortunate memories of Elton John, is able to be intensely emotive without the use of histrionic vocals or hammy instrumentation, instead leaving a simple bass line and dream-like guitar melody to build to a climax that is never really there, but is all the better for not existing.
The lyrical content, though not ground breaking, is mainly sweet enough love songs that reflect the simplicity of the music. Repetition of lines like ‘being as in love with you as I am’ from ‘Angels’ doesn’t sound cheesy when sang over such sleekly produced and frankly ‘cool’ music as this. A master work of pop, though let down slightly by one track, the almost too sparse, ‘Try,’ The xx have made the ‘difficult second album’ look easy.