Poppy Ackroyd has had a busy year it would seem. Many will know her as the talented violinist and pianist of the Hidden Orchestra whose superb second album launched in September to a positive review from us, however there appears to be a lot more to her than that. The classically trained Edinburgh based musician is now close to the release of her debut solo effort Escapement (due December 2012). A heartbreakingly beautiful record of intricate and very delicate compositions made exclusively, bar the odd field recording here and there, using the piano and the violin. It’s a wonderful idea and is executed to perfection to the point if you weren’t aware this was the case you probably wouldn’t question it. Continue reading →
One of the most striking features of the XX is their visual identity. It’s simple, effective and because they’ve so firmly stuck to it, it has become a firm compliment to their music as well as a bold statement about their ideas. That vision is now spread across two albums as the XX return with Coexist the follow up to their vastly successful and celebrated debut XX. It’s been an ongoing discussion in the office since the excitement surrounding the release of their mercury winning album subsided, just how they would follow it up – would they forge a new path and deviate from the already unique sound they revealed to the public back in 2009 or would they stick to their craft and further hone the sound they created. Personally because there’s no one else out there quite like the trio, I’ve been hoping for the latter. Yes there are similar artists in terms of the ideals and basic execution but no one does the dual vocals or carefully considered minimalistic sound like Romy, Oli and Jamie.
So maybe the important question is if you didn’t like the XX three years ago will Coexist be enough to lure you back in for another listen? Perhaps. It leaves the young, almost naive innocence of the debut for a more developed and focused sound that shows the extensive world touring the band has partaken in over the last three years. it also sounds a little more introspective, mature and the band have opened themselves to the use of their peers styles incorporating almost club suitable beats at moments. It’s remix friendly yet again and thoroughly cinematic – expect to see many of these tracks cropping up on adverts and campaigns post release. However, in turn there doesn’t seem to be any tracks that jump out on a first listen. This is a shame when thinking back to the debut with tracks like crystalized and VCR instantly standing out from the get go with catchy melodies and clever use of dual vocals. I have listened to the album extensively now and I’m not sure I could pick out a specific melody or moment. So it’s a different beast this time, and maybe a little harder to get into, but despite this it’s still a deeply rewarding album with absolutely stunning production. It’s warm basslines throb, subtle percussion layers in unobtrusively; the unmistakeable XX guitar tone is there and compliments the entwined vocals wonderfully. There’s a haunting fragility throughout which crackles with electric energy and there’s space for every instrument to breathe and stand out. It’s also stylish with new instruments being introduced to the sound, among them strings make an appearance and even a steel drum which is used to perfection on the suitably atmospheric Reunion. It’s exciting to listen to and demands a certain level of attention to get the most out of. What it lacks in catchy melodies it simply overflows with atmosphere and creativity throughout. It is genuinely exciting to listen to on a set of decent headphones in an undistracted moment.
There will be reviews that extensively praise the band for sticking to their sound and continuing that identity they have forged over onto a follow up record, there will also be reviews that slam them for staying safe and making the XX part two, not adventuring out to find a new sound. Either way, it’s unquestionable that the XX have serious talent and a sound that is very much their own. Coexist is an incredible album in so many respects and though it only refines the sound the band created four years prior and even if it’s not your cup of tea, it definitely deserves your attention for at least one listen. The band have stuck staunchly to a vision and that’s commendable in its own right. It’s refreshing to hear something so thoughtful, genuine and exciting, and to know it’s being consumed and celebrated on a mass scale is truly wonderful.
Coexist is available for streaming here and is released on September 10th via Young Turks