The xx – Coexist The xx – Coexist

Given that their self-titled debut won the Mercury Prize and is widely recognised as one of the most accomplished and fully-formed debut albums in recent memory, you’d be forgiven for thinking that The xx would lose their grasp on all that made their first album so special. After all, part of what made xx so impressive was its arrival seemingly from nowhere. No anticipation, no hype- just a modern indie band with lovelorn lyrics and the bare minimum in terms of instrumentation. Fast forward three years and the London trio are almost household names, with the band’s music having been used in everything from a Rhianna track to AT&T commercials. Jamie Smith – the band’s beatmaker and producer on both albums – has been steadily making a name for himself as Jamie xx; quietly circulating his own nuanced take on UK club music and giving us one of the standout releases of last year with his Gil Scott-Heron remix album We’re New Here. Yes, it’s fair to say that things have changed quite quickly for The xx.

Thankfully, the upheaval of their sound has been minimal. In fact, Coexist opts for mood and space to a far greater extent than its predecessor- taking a style that was already pretty bare and stripping it down to the skeletal. Whilst this results in a few tracks that are less than essential, in the main Coexist is a subtle and intriguing re-work of The xx sound.

That said, lyrically, we’re on familiar ground here – at times all too familiar – with the majority of Coexist focusing on the themes of heartache, yearning and regret. And, whilst there’s still few acts around who can get away with a lyric as simple as the crooning “Being as in love with you as I am / Being as in love, love, love” (on ‘Angels’), too often there’s lines here which feel like rehashes of material we’ve heard before. Lyrics can range from the vague and impersonal, “If I wait too long, I lose you from my sight / Maybe tonight I could stop dreaming and start believing in forever” (on ‘Reunion’) to the downright clichéd, “You were more than just a friend, oh the feeling / It never came to an ending, I can’t bear to see you” (on ‘Sunset’). It might not be fair to expect the same level of insight into heartbreak as we were treated to on xx, but there are times when it feels as if, lyrically, Coexist treads water.

The more subtle changes are to be found in the song structures themselves – though fans of Jamie xx’s solo work (of which I am one) will be disappointed with his apparent lack of influence over these tracks, save for on the rolling club groove of ‘Swept Away’ – which demonstrate perfectly the advantages of bringing Smith’s talents to the fore. As it is, these songs focus on space and the occasional beat or guitar note to bring a track alive – as on the quietly brilliant ‘Fiction,’ which, in truth, owes most of its dues to the progression of Oliver Sim as a vocalist. No longer the one who simply serves to make Madley Croft sound good, Sim’s vocals exude warmth and charm throughout Coexist. Another highlight is the aching 2 step of ‘Chained,’ with Croft and Sim’s vocals revolving around an ethereal, floating synth and an off-kilter beat – and in the process providing one of the album’s best moments with the arresting, “Separate or combine, I ask you one last time / Did I hold too tight? Did I not let enough light in?”

Coexist certainly isn’t a staggering, blow the critics away reinvention, but it is an album of subtle hooks that is likely to grow with repeated listens. The gradual and seamless progression from track to track means that certain moments get lost in the haze – which was never really the case on xx, even if there were tracks you listened to more so than others. That said, the simple fact is that no-one does heartache quite like The xx, and whilst Coexist may not be as bold a statement as their debut, The xx are a band that you can’t help but come back to.

The xx - Coexist, reviewed by Lemon on 2012-09-26T05:44:17-07:00 rating 3.5 out of 5

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