The xx return to the scene this year with the same fire as they had three years ago, though it’s still lit by a match … not a blazing fire. The band has never been a rock ‘n roll trio or a smashingly entertaining favorite. Their hit debut was widely acclaimed, and though groundbreaking, remained quietly celebrated. The passion in their work sounds real, but at times is not at the forefront. Sophomore album Coexist works right in line with the previous project and evolves quite nicely.
What seems to be on the surface of Coexist is the lyrical content this time around. If The xx’s first album was about defining their sound, then this album is about exploring a deeply rooted theme. And yet again, the band did not stop at halfway. This record is a full-on statement from lover to lover, an expression of a true connection that seems rare considering its intensity. “Angels” gave us a taste of this last month when it was released as a single. Hollowing out tonal recklessness for a simple echoed electric guitar pluck along with the light patter of a drum, singer Jamie Smith compares a relationship to dreaming of angels, singing “being as in love with you as I am” over and over.
Coexist eventually reads like a story, though, as the mutual infatuation wasn’t meant to last and we’re brought right back down from the high with “Chained.” Again we’re mesmerized with brilliant lyric writing.
Without pause, the album continues to talk of the deception with the relationship as male vocals take over to talk of the false reality he found himself in when faced with love’s destruction. “Fiction” is this realization played out for our ears to hear, and as listeners, we’re lucky to hear the raw, uncovered truth that true artists and brave souls are only willing to share with a wide audience such as this.
Though musical variation is not wild (each song has a consistently similar beat and soft melody), the London-based band manages to entertain with their veilless stories, aided by the change in vocals from song to song. There are some where the male figure, Oliver Sim, steps to the microphone to share his side and other times where Romy Madley Croft (female vocals) professes what she knows. But some of the best moments happened when the two convened in a duet, playing off of each other and working together proficiently. This is never short of wonderful.
Any argument made against The xx’s efforts this year are somewhat predictable, and it comes down to the low energy and pressure to succeed — both shallow jabs. People who can’t see past whispery vocals and light drum patter will call Coexist boring and uninspiring. But what makes them wrong is that the lyrical strength requires little to no pizazz in the background. It could even have detracted from the wisdom. And of course, since their greatly embraced first album was so well-made, the comparison between the two may never be flattering. Though not a sophomore slump, the album is simply quieter. And this is OK!
Correction: Oliver Sim is the band’s male vocalist and Romy Madley Croft is the band’s female vocalist.