Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim of the xx perform during Lowlands music festival on Aug. 19, 2012, in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands. (Dimitri Hakke / Getty Images / September 16, 2012)
A Vivoscene Music Review by Ben Bengtson
Vivoscene rating 7.9
The xx were wise to wait three years before putting out Coexist, the follow up to their widely popular 2009 debut. The longer wait gave this eclectic group of Londoners more time to build up the mythos surrounding their gorgeous first record. That album (self-titled as xx) fused late-night R&B sensibility and indie music’s dynamism with electro’s minimalism and since has become a staple of 21st-century music. The album was not a game changer, but it showed a side of the musical landscape that had yet to be explored: a tenderness lacking in most alternative recordings and a unique musical approach to London’s escalating club scene.
Instead of leaping into new sonic territory on their second album, The xx have opted to refine the sound they created with xx. The band has managed to embrace minimalism even further on Coexist, using the spidery guitar work of Romy Madley Croft less frequently, her guitar lines now gently vibrating in the background where once they used to pulse. The vocal interplay between Croft and Oliver Sim, that gorgeous back and forth that sounded like two lovers trading words, is also treated with a certain restraint. While Croft and Sim’s vocal coupling is still at play on several key tracks, such as the near-perfect “Chained” (the harmonization of the pair’s “ooooo’s” and “ahhhh’s” is sublime), many of the less accessible songs experience a greater remoteness and minimalism, both vocally and musically.
You can stream the entire album Coexist here:
On “Reunion”, for example, the music shuffles and sways, but rarely lands on a consistent beat or groove. Instead, repetitive verse, Caribbean-sounding keys, and gently struck guitar chords create an attractive, aurally complex sound that is remarkable, though not as catchy as “Islands”. Coexist attempts to challenge the listener by creating an evocative mood more than the band’s preceding album. This is not to suggest that their new set of songs lack a steady, pulsing rhythm (the awesome bass and drums beat on “Tides” is among my favourite cuts on Coexist), but there is a greater sense of sonic exploration and focus on unadorned, direct lyrics.
The xx have approached Coexist with greater lyrical confidence and a directness that was lacking on their debut. The words on xx were also plainspoken, but there was an ambiguity to much of Croft and Sim’s lyrics that has since been stripped away – the complexities of lines such as “We watch things on VCRs” on the track “VCR” (from xx) are all but gone. While I found the relative simplicity and directness of The xx’s new lyrical approach jarring at first, I find now that I enjoy the striking boldness and honesty of many of their better lines.
On album closer, “Our Song,” Croft and Sim in perfect unison sing: “there’s no one else / that knows me / Like you do / What I’ve done / You’ve done too.” It’s a perfect summation of Coexist: simple, evocative and moody. The album is not miles ahead of its predecessor nor does it open any new doors for The xx, but it is an excellent feat of minimalism in its own right. It is an album full of sentiment suggesting people coming together and falling away, that perfectly unpleasant (and pleasant) reality of coexistence.