Three years after the release of their first album, XX, The xx are back with Coexist. Their release in 2009 was met with well-deserved critical acclaim, earning them nominations for a slew of awards and even winning the Mercury Prize in 2010. But all that just meant that the British indie trio had big expectations to meet with their sophomore album.
That’s why I was so pleased to find that Coexist is filled with the familiar sounds of Romy Croft’s simple and frail chord progression, Oliver Simm’s soft yet deep bass lines and Jamie Smith’s signature mellow beats. Allowing for an album filled with sharp guitar riffs, complimented by deep bass lines that are elegantly placed over hypnotic beats. Without losing their unique sound, The xx managed to build an album that expands on what they achieved in XX.
Coexist takes even more of a minimalist approach than before. The loss of second guitarist and keyboardist, Baria Qureshi, has definitely helped the group to keep to their golden rule of simplicity. Spacing out tracks even more allows for the contributions of Croft, Smith and Simm to carry more weight. And it’s the moments of a single instrument playing that carry more weight on this album than those of multiple instrumentation.
Croft and Simm give vocals that perfectly play off each other, seemingly intertwining in tracks like ‘Swept Away’, yet, at the same time, reverse duets run rampant through the album in tracks like ‘Unfold’ and ‘Try’. To describe it as hauntingly beautiful is not a term many would refute.
This album also marks Smith’s starting to experiment more within his duties as DJ. Though his distinctive beats are still prominent, they are now infused with more sounds that add depth to the tracks – hearing steel drums playing softly in the background of ‘Reunion’ allows for the lyrics of Simm and Croft to paint a more vivid picture. Not only that, but due to the sparse nature of the tracks, it’s Smith’s beats that glue them together and give weight to the contributions of Simm and Croft.
However, what Coexist seems to showcase best is Simm and Croft starting to explore deeper themes within their lyricism. And what’s best is that they do this while keeping their penchant for writing despairingly elegant lines. In tracks like ‘Chained’, we get the same old Simm and Croft, as they croon together: “We used to get closer than this, / Is it something you miss?” But it’s in tracks like ‘Angels’ that we see a new side of the band. Croft explores themes set forth in songs from the previous album, singing about, believe it or not, a happy relationship. “They would be as in love with you as I am.” She actually says that (I know – I was shocked, too).
Though you won’t find a track nearly as awe inspiring as ‘Crystalized’ or ‘Intro’ on Coexist, it’s nice to see The xx follow up with an album that has expanded upon XX, instead of destroying what they achieved.