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Album review: The xx, 'Coexist'

By Kyle Kramer

RedEye special contributor

September 10, 2012

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**1/2 (out of 4)

The xx make music for pretty much one context: the late night walk or train ride home, ideally taken in some state of melancholy. If you have a great pair of headphones for those late night treks, you're in good shape. If you just went through a breakup, you're really in luck.

Much like the band's 2009 debut, the English outfit’s second album “Coexist” mines the minimal sound of simple, quietly delivered guitar lines, pairing these with a drum machine and back-and-forth vocal exchanges to explore the delicate emotional territory of collapsing relationships. This time around, though, the sound goes deeper: more minimal, more electronic, more lyrically direct. For the chronically morose, this is great news, since “Coexist” settles into one emotional register and stays there. For the chronically restless, it means things can get a bit boring.

“Coexist” is produced with extreme precision, unafraid to back vocals with nothing more than a single guitar note or to play with a drum pattern for just a few moments or to pause in complete silence. Rhythmically the album draws from the London electronic underground, summoning up slow, clattering interpolations of UK funk and garage, while touches like the keening guitar effects on “Try” make it feel aggressively futuristic. “Coexist” demands slow, careful listening; its pleasures are in gradually appreciating the precise placement of its different elements rather than in memorable songs. Moments like the uncomfortably drifting guitar build on “Our Song” stand out more than any lyric or chorus. Its considered approach doesn't leave much room for shortcomings, and the album's demand for close attention unfortunately highlights its monotonous, uneventful songwriting as much as it does its other tightly presented ideas.

In concert: Oct. 20 at Congress Theater

Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic

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