Moody. Dark. Sensual. Whisper-pop. These are all words that could be used to describe The xx. You might be familiar with their wildly popular 2009 self-titled debut that was highly touted among critics and fans alike as one of the best albums of the year and introduced the world to beatmaker extraordinaire, Jamie xx. With it, the British trio cemented themselves as one of the most talked about new bands, with each word of their angsty lyrics and each biting kick of the bass drum transforming them into a minimalist’s dream and teenage lovers’ soundtrack.
With their overwhelming success, though, came the inevitable question of what they would do for their follow-up. Would they try to recreate themselves and build the buzz or would they stick to their guns and put together a paler version of The xx? Fast forward countless awards and gigs to three years later and their sophomore effort, Coexist. So what did they direction did they decide to go in? The xx stuck exactly to what they knew best: songs about the trials of love over Jamie xx’s genius beats. But, to my delight, Coexist didn’t turn out as an inferior version to their debut. While their sound is no longer as unique, the trio still manages pump out tracks that are still hot and steamy, but refreshing enough to demonstrate their progress since The xx.
While their lyrics have never been “songwriter of the generation” material, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s strong suit has been the passion that comes across in their voices as they sing the most simple lines like “Being as in love with you as I am,” on their first single, “Angels,” but filling them with quavering emotions and undeniable chemistry. It is their ability to make the most trivial words sound like the most brilliant piece of lyricism that makes them so endearing. It is this same shallow yet deep paradox that runs its course throughout all of Coexist. “Chained” is a prime example, with Sim and Croft going back and forth about how they “used to be closer than this,” to the moody combination of a drum kit and guitar line. There aren’t any tracks on the LP seem to have the instantaneous hit appeal of “Crystallised,” but if one were to come close it would undoubtedly be “Chained.”
A large portion of the reason why Croft and Sim can get away with such simplistic lyrics lies with Jamie Smith, better known nowadays as Jamie xx. While most follow the same vein, none of his complex beats are quite the same and grow into something new over the course of a song. What might start off with a piano can transform into a funky bass line and snare taps, as so beautifully evidenced on “Swept Away.” When The xx were in the process of making Coexist, we all heard that the beats would channel more of a club vibe, and while Smith wouldn’t quite fit in in Ibiza, there is a reason why his sounds are so highly in- demand. This reason is clearly showcased on Coexist. Jamie xx’s eclectic mix of sounds, ranging from steel drums (“Reunion) to a mandolin (“Try”) to the most emotional guitar you’ve ever heard (“Fiction”), provide a flawless backdrop for Croft and Sim to work out their seemingly endless list of issues.
The two use their music as what could only be described as “couples therapy,” except for the fact that they aren’t quite a couple. On “Sunset,” easily one of the strongest tracks on the album, the classic call and response takes place until they finally sing together, “I always thought it was sad the way we act like strangers.” Croft and Sim are at their best when they share vocal duties, most gloriously displayed on “Tides.” The result is perfection, with the two crooning over a captivating Jamie xx gem. It’s obvious that The xx know what they’re good at, and the recurrence of themes of love and love not really working out, all the while over a sexy beat have come to be their trademark sound.
Coexist closes with “Our Song,” a soft, simple, yet hypnotizing track that’s just what you would expect to conclude an xx LP. Croft and Sim agree, “There’s no one else that knows me like you do.” While this may be true, it’s hard to argue that no one else knows The xx like they do. With that being said, even though we may be able to call what play they’re going to run next, at least we’re guaranteed they’re going to come up big.