The XX – ‘Coexist’: Round 74 – Rob’s choice

The X - CoexistI’ll spare you the details, except for these:

In the autumn of 2012 I was walking my dog in the red sunshine glow of Jacob’s Ladder beach. I had headphones on and at some point in that walk, completely without warning, one of the songs from the middle section of ‘Coexist’ completely and permanently rearranged my brain. After those three and a half minutes I was, and remain, a different person.

Two of the things that this record proved to me are:

1. Music can change people, permanently. See above.

The big changes in my life that ‘Coexist’ came to symbolise and, ultimately, to soundtrack, were already well underway. They were seismic, irreversible, long trailed and well understood. And yet it took a piece of music by 3 people from Wandsworth to catalyse the mental and physical shifts required in and of me. They may eventually have happened some other way, at some other time, but they may not have. I could have been a different person now had they not.

2. Music, once it’s out there, can come to mean almost anything, and the recipient of music is at liberty to twist and reshape it to their own purposes.

We took this album, this collection of 11 songs, and we turned it into a soundscape into which we could place the unfolding changes in our lives. Now they are intrinsically linked. The opening chiming notes of ‘Angels’ are, for me, the most evocative in all of recorded music and everything that follows on the record has been weathered, hammered and twisted, shaped by the environment and by our use, to fit the purpose we chose to put it to.

And it was made for a different purpose, or at least to convey something very different. Lyrically and in mood ‘Coexist’ is a record about a slow, almost imperceptible break-up. The protagonists, voiced by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim begin “Being as in love with you as I am” and by the end “can see it in your eyes/Some things have lost their meaning”. Across the 39 minutes they have drifted apart and, having recognised the separation as it was happening, found themselves powerless to stop it. It’s a meticulous psychodrama almost completely divorced from any physical details apart from slowly untouching hands and sunsets reflected in the surface of an eye.

Musically it’s exquisite. My recollection is that on release it was generally considered an insufficient step forward from, perhaps even a paler facsimile of, their debut album. That’s a total mistake. Perhaps it presents a de-energised take on its predecessor, itself one of the most identifiable, trademarkable sounds to emerge in recent years. But as The XX step away from the door of the club, severing the already distant umbilical connection to the dance floor, they step into real life, albeit in abstract. And on ‘Coexist’, with its drifting, disorienting, shifting sound palette, they inhabit that world fully. We can hear them breathing it in and out, in and out, in and out. In our case, real life and this album became almost indistinguishable.

This record means a lot in our house. We have the lyrics to one of the songs framed on one of our walls. Music has been a defining force in my life for more than thirty years and yet this is the only time in my life that I had put up someone else’s words and declared them representative of my heart.

I’d go so far as to say that if music burned down and we could save only one album it would be this one.

Nick listened: Every music fan has a different relationship with every record, that they have any kind of relationship with, to every other music fan who also has a relationship with that record. If that makes sense? Some of those relationships are deeply felt and profoundly emotional, some are frivolous and aesthetic. They’re all valid and they can all have meaning, and often the best shared musical experiences come from the ways these different relationships intertwine. I’d quite enjoyed this record by The xx up until last night, on the basis of a downloaded copy and a handful of plays. Now I feel very warmly towards it indeed, and it’s ascended my list of things to pick up and buy next time I’m in a record shop. That’s what talking about and sharing music can do. That’s why we have this little club.

Tom listened: Although he was adamant he didn’t, I’m convinced Rob lent me Coexist a while ago. Whatever, I had certainly listened to it a few times prior to tonight but I had obviously never given it a fair spin. I am pretty sure it didn’t make its way out of my car, which is a problem for just about any album, but particularly one that trades in such sonic subtleties and atmospheres as Coexist. So on my tinny old CD player in my tinny old Citroen, Coexist didn’t stand a chance…what I could hear over the noise of wheels on tarmac sounded pretty ropey; in my experience, icy vocals and minimal instrumentation don’t tend to fare too well in that environment.

Listening properly, Coexist was transformed (well, we listened properly for the first half of the album at least – I seem to recall that conversation took us a bit off task on the latter tracks but this solely reflects our collective inability to concentrate on anything for more than half an hour. It is, in no way whatsoever, a reflection on the quality of the music), to such an extent that I simply couldn’t tell what the problem was in the first place. I wouldn’t say I liked it unequivocally as the coolness of the vocals still jarred slightly, but I can certainly now see where Rob’s coming from, at least!

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