In a sense, Kid Smpl’s remix of The xx’s “Fiction” demarcates the logical furthest extent of the London trio’s vision. It’s made up almost entirely of infrequent, out of breath kicks, melancholy keys and atmospheric found sounds. Rommy’s vocals are pushed so far into the mix that they almost operate as random found sounds and the beat (when there is one) is as airy and atmospheric as they come. Without expectations, Smpl has crafted an effortlessly beatific night time anthem that achieves more with less and might remind some listeners why they fell in love with The xx in the first place. Stream and download below.
John Talabot’s ƒIN LP was released last February, but it wasn’t until the cavalcade of year end lists came around that the hype machine really got behind the Barcelona-based producer’s prodigious debut. Admittedly, we missed the album the first time around, but it certainly didn’t leave the proverbial tapedeck for months after we realized the mistake we had made. At his best with fellow Spaniard Pional at his side, Talabot’s measured, Donna Summers-inflected house numbers represented a decidedly anti-traditional take in a fairly by the numbers year that saw numerous artists gravitate towards a four-on-the-floor structure. After touring with The xx, Talabot put on his remix hat and joined up with Pional to take on the London trio’s album standout “Chained”, adding some much needed playfulness to the often-times dreary original. Like the majority of ƒIN, Talabot and Pional expertly manage the ebb and flow of “Chained”, teasing the listener with plinking chords and an ever-throbbing kick that drops out predictably at times, but remains engaging. Talabot and Pional sample a familiar synth line from The Streets’ “Blinded By The Lights”, but retain a feeling of unfamiliarity throughout despite the propinquous nature of its elements. Stream below.
Always confusing druids and druze
Way back in ’09, remixes of The xx tracks like “Islands”, “VCR” and well, the whole album, were all the rage in blog world. Actually, they still are today. The band’s use of empty space and minimalist ethos lends especially well to the remix game. I’m not sure whether it’s due to a more critical eye on my part, but the large majority of Coexist remixes I have listened to are god awful. Four Tet’s take on “Angels” is one of the few worthwhile reworks out there. And there are a lot. Kastle’s Symbols Recordings recently released Druid Cloak’s The Grove EP, a brilliant take on modern bass music that has garnered support from the likes of Machinedrum, Cedaa and Bambounou. Not much is known about Druid Cloak, but he (?) does claim to adhere to “what the earth tells [him to make].” He recently remixed Coexist standout “Fiction” in a bout of half-step (is there any other way to remix The xx) wizardry. Stream below and grab the track for free from Symbols’ facebook.
When I look up The xx’s 2009 debut in my iTunes, I’m almost always taken aback by the sheer number of talent that lent their hand to both official and unofficial remixes. Pariah, Dark Sky, Mount Kimbie, Nosaj Thing, John Talabot, Four Tet, and of course Jamie xx himself, all put forth impressive reinterpretations, with “VCR”, “Basic Space” and “Islands” (by my count) being the most popular remix fodder. Even that Biggy mashup tape was quality and highlighted Jamie xx’s handle on hip hop percussion. Surprisingly, despite Coexist being released over two weeks ago, there has been a dearth of quality remixes. It’s not like the album isn’t remix-able either. With even more empty space and sparser production, the album is arguably more open to reinterpretation than xx. Enter Kieran Hebden. Four Tet’s sprawling remix of “VCR” was one of the two or three best from the debut and his take on “Angels” might be looked back on in a similar fashion in a few years. Unlike the nine minute shoegaze exodus that was “VCR”, Hebden’s take on “Angels” is charming and beatific, maintaining the restraint of the original. The remix could appear on an EP alongside a Jamie xx remix of a recent Four Tet jam. In the meantime, stream “Angels” below.
Disclaimer: xx is quite possibly my favorite non-hip hop album of the aughts or whatever you want to call them. If I wrote this review after listening to Coexist for the first time, I might have ended up sounding like this guy. Take from that what you will. (You can stream Coexist over at NPR)
Much of the hype over the past few months has lead to the opinion that Coexist would be more dance oriented than xx, largely due to the group spending time in the club that they had (presumably crafting xx) in their teenage years. Questions abounded: was Coexist going to be a dance record? Would it sound more like Jamie’s solo work? When the cover appeared a few weeks ago, the neon oil slick inside the X seemed to hint at a more fantastical gesture towards dance music. Maybe even some rave nostalgia.
In an interview with Pitchfork last month, Oliver answered many of these questions with a resounding no: “Early on, Jamie said something about the album being inspired by dance music, so everyone’s expecting a house beat to drop halfway through– which is hilarious because this is not a dance record.” And it’s true; Coexist is about as far from a dance record as you can get. Even more so than xx, it is inherently introverted, intended for late night headphone listening.
In its own way, Coexist is a perfect album. Every song is delicately arranged, eschewing in vogue maximalism for intricate percussion and tighter songwriting. There is no excess on this album, and despite utilizing virtually the same palette as xx, the album is far more technically impressive, especially on “Chained” and “Swept Away” which borrow heavily from UK Bass contemporaries Mount Kimbie, Burial and Joy Orbison.
While xx was an adventure through the perils of youthful love, Coexist sees Oliver and Romy speaking from experience. Outside of the refrains of “love, love, love” on album opener “Angels”, they’ve matured in leaps and bounds since 2009 (they did write portions of the debut when they were 15, after all). The subject matter is the same, of course, but it cuts deeper this time around. While the album excels in the technical realm, and that point can’t be overstated, it often falls into a workmanlike routine.
On “Chained”, Romy sings “did I hold it too tight, did I not let enough light in” and that is exactly where Coexist sees its limitations. The xx might not have allowed enough light in, deferring to form over function. On “Missing” and “Unfold” especially, the dense atmospherics sound forced and Romy and Oliver are effectively muffled. Instead of the strangled tenderness evoked throughout xx, Coexist almost feels indifferent at times. Too internal for its own good.
That said, few (if any) artists in the contemporary pop landscape could craft a love song as perfect as “Sunset” or “Fiction”. If you can’t identify with the refrain “it feel like you really knew me, now it feels like you see right through me”, I don’t know what planet you’re from. Oliver and Romy are in perfect harmony on the two aforementioned songs, at the absolute height of their excruciating insecurity. And that’s what makes The xx so relatable; we’re all deeply insecure beings, watching, waiting and dreading what is going to happen next at the workplace, school, parties and the bedroom. Romy and Oliver encapsulate what we’re all too afraid to say ourselves.
Coexist shouldn’t be looked at so much as an individual work, but as the darker, tighter-wound follow up to xx. It will go down as one of the two or three best albums of the year when it’s time to look back, but will it have the staying power of the debut? Can a lack of progression be excused, replaced by technical proficiency and maturation? I can’t answer those questions for you. Like any follow-up, Coexist will be criticized far more than xx, but that should lead to further expansion. After all, the crew is still in their early 20’s and has plenty of lustful despair to last them for at least a few more albums.
You probably don’t know this about us yet, but we’re big The xx stans. I mean big. So when we caught this recording of them performing a new track at Chats Palace in London, we knew it was our obligation to share it with all of you. The band has played several London shows over the past few weeks, their first in over two years, and by all accounts, the results have been extraordinary. The band has said that the new album, still unnamed, has a more club oriented feel than The xx, possibly an extension of Jamie XX’s recent work. I honestly haven’t been this excited for a new album in years. Even this god awful quality video gets me a little bit wet. I wish I had more information regarding a release date, but all we can do is tentatively wait. Find The xx’s summer tour dates over at Paste.
It feels like it’s 2009 again. It’s been three years since the release of The xx’s seminal self-titled debut, but as the fourtet gears up for a second go around, xx mania is revving its engine as well. Jamie xx stuck his neck into the solo realm and immediately became an indie darling after releasing the “Far Nearer”/”Beat For” single and his remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s last album I’m New Here. The xx are scheduled to play at numerous festivals across Europe and elsewhere this summer and have publicly stated that they are currently working up on a follow up to The xx. One result of the unique use of silence on their debut was a deluge of remixes from all corners of music realm. Some made perfect sense (Dark Sky, Four Tet, Mount Kimbie, Nosaj Thing), but most were cringe worthy. Without any new material to work with, amidst the excitement over a new album, it appears that some producers have begun to look back to the debut for inspiration. One of those happens to be 17 year old up and comer Beat Culture. This remix of “Shelter” borrows heavily from Burial (no surprise that he’s listed as an influence), but with an added twist. The song lacks the subtlety of most Burial productions, but that doesn’t necessarily negatively effect the remix. Beat Culture also lists Hudson Mohawke as an influence who places about as far from Burial on the minimal/maximal spectrum. If Beat Culture can fall somewhere in between the two, while maintaining his signature style, the teenager has a bright future ahead of him. Stream/download his remix of “Shelter” below.