Essentials Review: The xx - Coexist

The xx's Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith are back to captivate us again with their hushed soundscape off their sophomore release, Coexist. It's been three years since The xx first wrapped us around their little finger, seducing us with xx's sinister, sexy minimalism and then leaving us hanging with unsubstantiated rumors of a second album. But now, like an ex-lover you hope will return even though you know they're bad for you, they're back.

British wunderkind producer Jamie Smith (now known as Jamie xx) is like a mad scientist creating swirling, house-tinged beats. He mastered this aesthetic, couching melancholy vocals in gripping basslines and faded, knocking drums, along with enough melodic riffs to create a perfectly balanced and soulful tension. Smith creates Coexist's finest moments by both stretching and magnifying the gritty beauty of his vocalists, particularly with Romy's delicate voice on the opener "Angels" set against a guitar that chimes its presence with an unhurried efforlessness. "Angels" is the record's first single, driving, soaring song that sets the album's tone, fluttering around the idea of being in love-a pretty basic concept that nonetheless provides the center of Coexist's lyrical themes. If xx was about fucking, Coexist is about dealing with the trials and tribulations of a relationship.

Record's highlight like "Sunset", "Tides", and "Swept Away" all focus on different stages of romantic love, from infatuation to frustration to all the other stuff that falls in between. These songs are danceable, but like the rest of the band's body of work, would also be the ideal soundtrack for lying on the floor of a dark room and making out. Other tracks like "Chained" and "Fiction" are closer to xx, with shimmering bass line and clean, tortured guitars behind their signature regret-laden observations of a relationship gone to shit. These moments reveal the subtleties that distinguish the new xx: vocals louder and clearer in the mix and instrumentals lower and heavier, making the tinny beats of "Basic Space" and "Night Time" sound pedestrian by contrast.

Coexist is so decidedly xx, with its restrained control of vocals, notes, and beats and at first listen, it seems that not much has changed. Even with one less member's contribution. Yet upon further immersion, one thing is clear, there is a maturity and purity in their sound; a combined confidence in voice, instrument, and production that is hypnotic in its simplicity. In three years impatient years have proved well worth the time -- for not only a refined sound, but also a keen mastery in both production and concision. (Text Teuku Ajie)

Essential Tracks: "Angels", "Fiction", "Sunset", "Missing" and "Swept Away"



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