Is anybody really surprised that the introverted creators of 2009’s breakout debut have withdrawn even more so on their widely anticipated follow-up?
Indeed, Coexist marks a three-year maturation in sound that rather appropriately welcomes even more space than their debut.
Parts of the record were recorded in a so-called “boudoir”-like studio – a tiny room with no natural light and walls lined with black velvet.
It definitely shows, for The xx’s sound remains decidedly nocturnal. In fact, Fiction may be the darkest track to ever come from the band: taking on sole vocal duties, Oliver Sim’s seductive croon is accompanied by deep electronic bass hits and sombre piano notes, chased by the spectral guitar chords of Romy Madley-Croft.
This is not to say that Coexist simply follows the blueprint of its predecessor – perhaps the most important addition to the fold are the subtle yet forward-thinking electronic beats of Jamie xx.
Recalling his recent solo work and DJ mixes, Reunion and Sunset are tied together into one suite. As arpeggiating steel pans give way to minimalist two-step, Jamie’s fractured house beats complement Romy and Oliver’s lyrical content, drawing from equally fractured relationships.
“After all that we had, we act like we had never met” they sing – a basic statement by all accounts, but their desperate delivery makes for a heart-breaking impact.
Just like on xx, Jamie assumes production duties. However, while he gave 2009’s work a warm, inviting atmosphere, Coexist in comparison feels contained in an airlock; songs will often end abruptly, start a capella and halt mid-way through. Restraint is conventionally one of the bravest creative decisions, but The xx have always said just as much with silence as they do with sound.
Missing is a stellar example: at the one-third mark, movement is suspended and a cavernous silence eventually yields, with its chorus led by Sim’s most arresting vocal to date.
Of the three members, it is Sim who establishes himself as the most improved. While his bass lines may not be as prominent, there is a distinct confidence in his vocal ability, delivering on the potential that older tracks such as Fantasy only hinted at.
Coexist may not be as immediate as fans would like, but its progressive nature will sustain the listener’s interest far longer upon repeat listens. In fact, don’t be surprised to see Coexist re-released as a remix album a year from now; each track screams for outside reinterpretation, and in a live context even the band expands on this most insular of sounds.
Ultimately this suggests how Coexist should be approached: as a skeleton of sound, yet no less beautiful.