Review: The xx – Coexist (2012)

The xx splashed on to the scene with a self-titled debut album filled with sexy, beat-driven pop songs.  The type of songs perfectly appropriate for movies in your Netflix sub-genre “Steamy Independent Dramas.” Songs perfect to dance to, cry to, chill to, and— well, yeah, that too.  It was a fantastic first effort from the young band from London and was applauded by many as one of the best albums of 2009.  Three years later, The xx return with Coexist, and it does not disappoint.  The sound has shifted slightly from the debut, but it is still one that is very much all their own—brilliantly weaving together sad and beautiful, as if the two were meant to be.

Coexist as a whole is less upbeat, more somber than the debut.  Musically it’s more stripped down and lyrically it’s more focused on the loneliness and loss. The xx’s debut obviously touched on these themes as well; however, it never seemed to reach the depths of hurt and rejection that Coexist bares.  The frictional moments on xx always seemed to be on a less serious level: an argument, a bad fight, that breakup/makeup period of time.  Coexist is further down the road than that.  It’s over.   All that’s left is the accompanying feelings, second guessing, mixed memories, and the slow road of relearning to coexist as two different people.

“Angels” serves as an optimistic opening to the album.  The beats are delicate and minimal while Romy Madley Croft lulls visions of love’s magic moments.  It’s pure, simple and rivals to be The xx’s most beautiful song yet.  “Chained” reprises the familiar xx dueling vocals with bassist Oliver Sim exchanging lines and singing along with Croft.  Unlike some duets where two singers bring two different, competing sides to the same story, Sim and Croft often appear singing on the same, losing side. “Sunset” displays the two vocalists layering different observations of confronting the same post-relationship coldness.  Sim and Croft then come together on the chorus, “After all that we had/ We act like we had never met.”

“Try” is a never ending plea carried along by a Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx) repeating, hypnotic arrangement.  It displays a brief glimpse into the ever present feelings that somehow still remain weeks, months, years beyond the moments that first brought them on (“Why did we waste time/ Hiding it inside/ I want you to be mine”).  “Missing” dances around the same theme, but Sim is more forceful, doubtful, and even angered in his delivery: “My heart is beating in a different way/ Been gone such a longtime.”   Madley gorgeously balances the track with hopeful questioning over Sim’s distant cries: “Do you still believe?/ In you and me?/ Are we all we could be? / Is it meant to be?”

“Tides” starts with wonderful a cappella duet between Madley and Sims, before a bouncy, almost Caribbean, backing arrangement joins in.  “Unfold” begins with one of the best lines on the album, a simple “Am I blind?”  Often times when relationships approaches an end, one half may display subtle gestures that he or she is growing disinterested in the other.  It may seem this would be helpful, sort of lessening the blow, but really the simple gesture (“You move your hand away from mine” as Sim observes) is as loud and direct as anything.

Coexist is an outstanding sophomore effort from the promising London three-piece.  If by some chance you don’t find the new album favorable, then you probably didn’t like The xx to begin with (which is hard to believe, so give them another listen).  Coexist delivers on all the beloved aspects of the debut, but also illuminates the band’s continual growth.  A lot of times the music world craves for a second album to be just as good as the first, but by no means a duplicate of it.  It’s a weird, obscure and overly critical gray area; but with Coexist, the xx have found it, and have flourished.

Rating: 8.7 /10

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