The xx’s understated, minimal approach to pop music has been one of the pleasures of recent years — in an era of turning everything up to 11, it’s rather heartening to see that a band can sell a heap of records with a sound that’s built on the virtues of subtlety and restraint. Their second album, Coexist, which dropped yesterday, isn’t a dramatic departure from the template they set out on their 2009 debut — it’s a record that provides subtle refinements of their sound, and works very well in doing so. And while that sound is distinctive, it certainly isn’t unique, so we thought we’d celebrate the release of Coexist by pulling together a selection of albums that will sit nicely next to it in your record collection — albums that have informed The xx’s sound, or that we think share stylistic similarities with it. Let us know if you have any to add!
Broadcast — Tender Buttons
One of the great overlooked 2000s bands, Broadcast are sadly also one of the decade’s most tragic — singer Trish Keenan died of pneumonia last year at only 42 years of age. They produced three fantastic albums (along with a similarly excellent collaborative record with The Focus Group), and their final record — 2005’s Tender Buttons — was also their most minimal and beautiful. Anyone who’s been enjoying Coexist should definitely have a copy of this on their shelf.
Massive Attack — Blue Lines
One of the pleasing aspects of The xx’s work is the sense of space in their production — instruments are given space to breathe, and their tracks are defined as much by the space between the sounds as the sounds themselves. If such things please you, then look no further than Massive Attack’s debut, and particularly its 24-carat genius title track. The production here is as restrained as it gets, built around a simple hip hop beat and samples that stop as abruptly as they start, emphasizing the silence they leave in their absence.
Starfucker — Starfucker
This Portland band briefly rechristened themselves Pyramiddd in 2009 (changing back because Pyramiddd was “fucking stupiddd”). Anyway, whatever you want to call them, they do a fine line in a slightly more upbeat take on the same sort of minimalist pop sound that The xx have made their trademark.
Chromatics — In the City EP
We’re all for Kill for Love, but its relatively lush arrangements are a step away from the stripped-back approach to production that made us fall in love with Chromatics in the first place. Perhaps the best realization of their austere take on disco came with this 2010 eight-track EP — we particularly like the title track, and we’re sure that any xx fans out there will share our opinion. (The drumless version of Kill for Love that Johnny Jewel released for free download in May would fit the bill, mind you.)
Everything But the Girl — Walking Wounded
Jamie “Jamie xx” Smith told The Creators Project last year that “club music has definitely had an influence on [Coexist],” and while that statement sounds kinda outlandish at first glance, given the album’s subdued air, it makes sense when you listen carefully — the sounds Smith is alluding to are indeed in Coexist’s mixes, they’re just deployed in a way that’s radically different from how we’re used to hearing them. In this respect, the album reminds us of Everything But the Girl’s electronic mid-’90s reinvention — production that uses the language of club music to create a sound that’s restrained and melancholy.
Burial — South London Boroughs EP
There’s something distinctly London about The xx — their music always makes us think of yellow streetlights and night buses and hoping not to get stabbed. So it goes with Burial, too, whose music evokes pretty much the same atmosphere. This is what dubstep sounded like before glowstick-waving college bros ruined it for everyone.
Cold Specks — I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
Al Spx’s voice is more demonstrative than Romy Madley-Croft’s (or Oliver Sims’, for that matter), but there are definite stylistic similarities between The xx and Cold Specks — in particular, there’s a minimalist iciness to the production on Spx’s excellent debut I Predict a Graceful Expulsion that recalls both xx records.
Yazoo — Upstairs at Eric’s
If xx and Coexist are stripped-back synthpop, then this is essentially what they’re stripping back — Yazoo’s synth-driven arrangements are far more fleshed out than Jamie xx’s productions, but beyond that, The xx share a great deal with spiritual forebears like Yazoo. In particular, the boy-girl vocals and the use of dance music to address issues of the heart are both ideas that The xx would put to good use 30 years after this record was released.
ninetynine — Bande Magnétique
A record that’s just full of minimalist pop music par excellence. It’s one of our overlooked favorites of the last few years, and definitely worth your time.
Young Marble Giants — Colossal Youth
We’re hardly the first to point out the stylistic debt that The xx owe ’80s post-punk band Young Marble Giants, but that doesn’t make the comparison any less valid. The Welsh trio were pioneers of the minimalist synth-driven late-night pop sound that The xx would make their trademark — they only made one album, but it remains a classic of the genre.