After making a big splash in the indie-music scene with their self-titled debut, London-based musicians Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim return as The xx. With Jamie Smith on production, the album picks up the pieces of guitarist and keyboardist Baria Qureshi’s departure. While the freshness isn’t as prominent as it was on their debut, they still manage to possess a distinctive, captivating sound and take full advantage of the atmosphere created as a result.
Coexist looks to pick up where the band’s debut left off, with a unique blend of experimental and alternative elements overlaying manufactured beats in lieu of a percussionist. This almost scientific approach finds a perfect place throughout the album, as the lyrics mainly seem to be grounded in objective approaches to heartbreak, separation, and relationships, just as the title of the album suggests.
The objectivity present in each song makes Coexist stand out amongst other breakup albums, as it doesn’t allow feelings to interfere with an honest evaluation of the situation. And that’s what The xx strive to be with this endeavor: honest.
As should be expected, the vocals throughout the album take a central role, with Croft and Sim blending together, showing how truly compatible they are as a pair. Whether they’re unifying to create despondent harmonies or developing a conversation through a trading of lines, they always show how they compliment each other.
Their ability to unify is ever-present during “Chained.” Despite the description of an anti-climactic relationship, with two lovers questioning where things went awry, lines like, “We used to be closer than this. / Is it something you missed?” reveal a neutral tone that is a constant theme throughout this album.
“Reunion” is another subtly unique song, which shows off the balance of the singers through a conversation, discussing the possibility of two lovers being reunited and believing in happily-ever-after, over a faint, swirling guitar and scattered steel pans in the background. However, reality sets in with the repetition of the lines, “Never not ever / Never not ever again.”
Perhaps the biggest vocal accomplishment is the back and forth intro on “Tides,” which progresses into a lingering harmony throughout the rest of the track, singing “You leave with the tide / And I can’t stop you leaving / I can see it in your eyes / Some things that lost their meaning.”
Lyrics are probably the biggest success of Coexist, as they follow a theme of heartbreak and seem to accept the accompanying depression. The charm though, is found in their ambiguity, as they are allowed to develop a sense of universality.
When discussing how perfect her love is in the first single off the album, “Angels,” Croft states, “If someone believed me / They would be / As in love with you as I am.” To avoid details while still relating her affection, allowing the listener to share her sentiments, unimpeded by personal anecdotes that would otherwise be a hindrance to a common situation.
Beyond this, “Our Song” is a fitting end to the album, summarizing the relationship between Croft and Sim, without romanticizing anything, going into details of the built-up trust that has developed over years of reliability, seen in lines such as, “The walls I / Hide behind / You walk through / You just walk through.”
Without the guitar riffs that gave their first album a majority of its energy, The xx lose some of the spark that made xx such an exciting debut. However, Coexist is by no means a sophomore slump, possessing chilling harmonies, spacious guitar, and bass lines that find a home in the constantly hollow atmosphere that Smith manages to produce.
While it might not quite meet the high standards established with their debut, The xx still stands out amidst other indie artists and reassert why they are a rising force in their genre.
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