The xx Coexist Review

What do you call an inevitable fall? Yes, The xx dove directly into a sophomore slump, but that does not necessitate a discredit. Yes, Baria Qureshi was a key driver of the sound of the band and her fiasco of a dismissal is certainly a contributing factor to the failures of Coexist but none of those generalities address the issue of the album itself which fittingly coexists with their début. What even defines a sophomore slump?

A sophomore slump is derivative but in a fashion of a poor facsimile, in the sense of a slow but definite declining. To start, compare Intro to Angels. The first is an absolute triumph, an appropriate introduction to the band for many, and something that is so significant that it stands both as a start to a gorgeous album and also as a monolithic creation, a testament to their own talent of minimalism. On the other hand, Angels is not only a poor start to an album, it would not even have stood out on their début, effervescent as it attempts to be, it ends up falling flat. However, the question is whether this was a singular and temporal failure or rather an indicator of what is to come.

The next duo of songs attempts to argue in favor of the latter, as it defends The xx of the first album. It is original, it is inventive, it is artistic and yet it still subtly meanders, not quite hitting the previous peaks. However, on Coexist, Chained and Fiction feel like standouts, utter benchmarks of artistic innovation. Objectively however, these are anything but.

Whereas on xx, the music swelled and burst, crescendoing beautifully, here the music is only swill, the weak, overused grounds of the remnants of coffee after the real cup has already been made. Reunion is a wonderful example of the defining feeling of the album, that is of a sub-par follow-up, a true residue or remnant of what has already happened, what has already been made. Sunset attempts to counter that feeling but it is again only a brief respite to the same familiar emotion which is screaming, “This has already happened and last time this was better.”

Disappointment abounds, but the worst part is that the album isn’t even independently terrible. The xx still makes somewhat interesting music and the atmosphere is still there in spades. However, the band’s own past triumphs are precisely what dooms this albums. In essence, if I want to listen to The xx, why wouldn’t I listen to the far superior first album? Is it natural for our lives to peak and then to seem like everything we do is descending in importance, in meaning? Unfortunately that’s possible and it’s likely that the feeling would pervade everything even if the things we were doing were still remarkable. That’s just the way the world works; this is the reason that people making 300k a year in the sunny parts of the world can still be highly dissatisfied and not feel that their remarks are objectively outlandish. Objectivism isn’t real because what the fuck is the point of a Patek Phillipe if I am surrounded by A. Lange & Söhne wearers? Incidentally, it feels that The xx could appreciate the works of the great German masters. They are too devoted to minimalism. Why gerrymander if you can win regardless? Tradition?

Yes this is a flight of fancy, an Icarus again; but what are the options? It’s best to be bathed in golden sunshine even for an instant, then to eternally crawl the earth. Fucking bloom and burst and die and let live, but never claim to be sad when nothing of substance occurs for you in your entire life and suddenly it’s all over at 81 when it should have ended at a third of that. It’s a hollow play, but sometimes the first act is self-contained. If that is so, then my birthday in a few days bookends the second act of my life, the great tumultuous development and build, and the third act with the high action and the final dénouement is to come.

Now that’s exciting, in a way that this album cannot be. Perhaps instead of succumbing to the temptation of attempting to write the same successful album again they should have written about the struggles of what it means to try to replicate your success. In essence, a successful story about replication without replication of success. But it was never The xx’s forte to be convoluted, and thus just like any minimalist they are eventually doomed to replicate themselves. And that’s why this was inevitable.

Explosions in the Sky How Strange, Innocence Review

Let’s reflect on our cluttered little lives, lives that seem devoid of purpose but that seem to be definitely headed somewhere, either around the cusp, or straight down the chasm.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow, we left behind our dreams, our aspirations, our hope for something good. Our naivete and our belief that people are inherently good are there somewhere, present even still, but only as a reminder, a mocking testament to our trials and our failures.

And yet sometimes, we reach for the past and we think of the times when we hadn’t failed and we remember the times before everything had changed and before everything meant everything. That’s when we remember what is used to be like and through regret we sigh for the old times, the times we sought to abandon when they were happening.
While we grow up, we seek nothing more than to be older; but when we’re older, we just want to recapture our youth.

And the definition of youth is not the lack of wrinkles, the lack of experience and it is not the joyful abandon, it’s not the consequence free romps. It’s all that but it’s something else.

It is innocence.

Beach House Bloom Review

I bought a limited edition copy of this album on vinyl and it didn’t glow in the dark. On the upside, while I was trekking through the city with this album in tow, I ran into someone who said I looked like a Beach House fan and I told her she did too.

Beach House makes that kind of music: slightly romantic but not sappy, perfect in its quietude, its placidity. It’s not for everyone and it does kind of need you to be in a specific mood. In college, I had this album on repeat nightly and my roommate did not even complain all that much. The criticism levelled most often against Beach House is that very fact: it’s inoffensiveness is supposedly its downfall.

What is the spirit of Beach House? What does listening to Beach House inspire in us? It promises good fortune, it reminds us of Lao Tzu’s three Great Treasures: compassion, modesty and frugality. Yes, reckoning is due, yes, we’re forever carried forward and pushed towards our futures and our strivings and our dreams call us on while our failures and memories hold us back but it’s all escapable. There is no harm in temporary escape.

Yes, this kind of music has been done before and yes Beach House is not exactly breaking new ground in their own career on Bloom but this is their sound at its most polished. It’s a rainy afternoon in a foreign city, it’s the embers of a Nat Sherman rekindling a dying fire. It’s a cast hexagram that predicts tranquillity through progress.

It’s the feeling that sometimes taking a break is not reclining. Bloom is an album for lovers, is an album for getting lost in, a backdrop to a harmony or a harmony for a backdrop. An outlet, an escape – a beautiful veld to get lost in.

alt-J This Is All Yours Review

It has long been a staple of musical journalism that the sophomore record is to be lambasted and referred to strictly as the “sophomore slump.” Like every generalization and stereotype, it is somewhat based in truth. Indeed, from personal experience, the sophomore effort is always the most awkwardly difficult.

Why? It is because there is so much pressure to perform, coupled with the dual necessities of not changing too much but also to not stay exactly the same. Change too much and you are destined to be criticized universally for abandoning your roots but change too little and you are criticized for not being inventive, creative, brave enough to do something new. There is no balance and thus as the sophomore record is made to be dismissed just by virtue of coming second, it will always be dismissed regardless of merit.

I’m in sophomore year and the changes from each year to year are evident. Just as you cannot step into the same river twice, you cannot make the same record twice. In a world that is always fluid, changing, how can we possibly remain the same?

An Awesome Wave was more intense, more in-your-face but This Is All Yours is interesting in a different way, slowly, gradually sucking you into it.

Good on its own merit, but we are forced to look forward, anticipating what’s to come.