Matson on Music
Album reviews: 'Coexist' by The xx and two more
Three albums of note: "Coexist" by The xx, "Enjoy" by SERGIOISDEAD and "Dope Pac SE" by Kid Smpl. Listen to the music below the capsule reviews. And word to the wise, the second two are freely downloadable. Art courtesy the artists.
There can never be another first time. But that is the only reason why London trio The xx's second album "Coexist" isn't as good as the striking, stripped-down, self-named debut from 2009. Otherwise this is probably the best album all year in the "less is more" category, your number one go-to if you're looking for R&B and post-punk music echoing in a batcave. There are no weak tracks. All 11 are good. The album is one, smooth, continuous 37 minute listen. "Sunset" and "Swept Away" are standouts, with their steady, thumping beats. The latter has a bass line that when it hits, feels like wheels on rails. Singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim quietly duet on most of the tracks and that works very well, but they excel separately on "Angels" and "Fiction," singing about love in ways that are relatable but open to lots of interpretations. Producer/percussionist Jamie Smith could have made "Coexist" his star turn. He's a hot name in mainstream R&B/hip-hop now, thanks to Drake and Rihanna's "Take Care." But he doesn't milk that. The xx has a vision and he's still part of it. It's about being barely there. And while being barely there, sounding heavy as hell.
The proliferation of digital sample-based music on the Internet means someone, somewhere is remixing a song that came out yesterday. So it is with "Enjoy," a free download of cloudy-sounding #based hip-hop, a subgenre which provides a sonic parallel to the experience of swimming in information. It's music by a fan, for fans, styled into two- and four-bar loops which serve their purpose. That's it. And that's enough. Star tracks are "Frankie," a chopped version of "Bad Religion" by Frank Ocean, which seems to rock backward and forward at the same time, and "Angels (xx remix)," which takes the three-note resolution to The xx's sad song and knits it into a cozy sweater. Both rework music that came out this quarter. SERGIOISDEAD is a New York producer with a good sense of mood, and presumably no lawyer to clear all these samples. So "Enjoy" is free. But that makes the most sense anyway. Also present: two instrumentals originally rapped on by #based pioneer Lil B, which aren't earth-shattering but reaffirm that there is a whole generation of young producers inspired by B's right hand guys Clams Casino and Keyboard Kid.
The first music from Seattle label Hush Hush was "Escape Pod" by 21-year-old local producer Kid Smpl — floaty bass music perfect for doing moon salutations in your midnight outdoor yoga class. The second is a collection of "Escape Pod" remixes. In a field of international producers Seattle takes the cake, with local man DJAO's radical take on "Relief," which starts with a crashed wave of static and then follows that back into the ocean. Seattle's Blood Vibes does something very tricky with the song "Escape Pod," too, turning a calm number into a punishing gothic dance party. It's cool to hear these Seattle producers out-weird each other. And props to Kid Smpl for being good enough to motivate this project in the first place.