For The Record | Issue 26

For The Record | Issue 26

Bruce Willis Was A Ghost The Whole Time

The xx are three British twentysomethings who dress in black and create stripped-down minimalist pop with haunting melodic precision and a zealously apathetic atmosphere. Read that last sentence again. Now go and beat your head against a fucking wall to get that PR-spun marketing dross out of your skull. Ready to start fresh? Good.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who loved The xx’s debut album, and those who did not. It was that kind of album; it polarised. I belong to the first group. I loved pretty much everything about the record: from the instantly-iconic cover to the pitch-perfect production from a then-unknown Jamie xx. I listened to xx hundreds of times over the summer of 2009, and can vividly remember lying on my bed with the curtains drawn, headphones on, eyes closed, wholly enveloped by the sparse music.

I listened. And the sun rose and set, and the moon orbited, and I listened. Months passed and I listened less. Slowly but thoroughly, The xx disappeared entirely from my musical landscape. Invariably “Crystalised” would be played at a party, and I would gently nod along and remember those sepia summer days, but when the song ended I wasn’t unhappy about it.

The xx came out of nowhere and released a fully-realised pop album that surprised pretty much everybody. Then they vanished as suddenly as they arrived, in a puff of insomnia and reverb. Now almost exactly three years later, The xx have steamrolled back onto the scene with their sophomore recording Coexist. The world gets 37 minutes and 12 seconds of self-conscious “atmosphere”. And I get a press release in my inbox reintroducing me to “three British twentysomethings who dress in black.”

This album was destined to dishearten. The xx’s debut was so unanticipated that we had no time to prepare ourselves for the Londoners’ sonic somnolence. But we’re ready this time; we know what to expect. In much the same way I wish I could re-watch The Sixth Sense or Fight Club with fresh eyes, I’d love to go back to the moment I held xx in my hands, completely unaware of the beauty inside.

But Bruce Willis is a ghost and they’re both Tyler Durden, the magic is gone, and what remains is an empty shell of disappointment and nostalgia. This is Coexist: an obvious and uninspired sequel, predictably succumbing to the sophomore slump. It’s a crude replica of xx, yet entirely lacking in the innovation and wonder of the band’s debut.

For the record, I don’t hate Coexist, I just wish it was so much more than it is. There’s a part of me that wants to remain hopeful for a third xx recording, but I don’t know if I can take the disappointment again.
This article first appeared in Issue 26, 2012.
Posted 5:01pm Sunday 30th September 2012 by Lukas Clark-Memler.