2009’s soft peep from London that somehow echoed throughout the world. The gentle whisper into the blogosphere that got amplified into one of the most poised debut albums of recent memory. The release that catapulted a group of teenagers into indie darlings, and with some advertising exposure to boot, almost a crossover success. The xx’s rise was quick, but their intimate live shows and an extremely poignant LP proved they deserved it. Rich with Jamie xx’s sparce production, echoing guitars, and buttery smooth vocals from Romy Croft and Oliver Sim, xx carved out a defined sound uniquely their own.
Moving on from their debut, the trio embarked on a few lengthy tours, but kept relatively quiet on the new music side of things. Jamie explored his production talent further and established himself on the forefront of the post-whatever-it’s-called scene, lending a helping hand with the ambitious Gil Scott-Heron remix project. The announcement of a new album in 2012 brought along with it a pile of staggering expectations, not that it came as any surprise. The question then is, after such a complete and, well, damn near flawless debut, where do they go from here? Do they make a sequel and rehash old sounds into a new album? Do they step out of the box and pursue something else entirely out of their comfort zone? The answer isn’t cut and dry, but what is clear is that Coexist is an album that carries all the distinct qualities of xx without falling into a trap of completely repeating themselves.
Coexist begins on the album’s strongest cut ,“Angels”, featuring Romy by herself repeating, “They would be as in love with you as I am,” over a slow churning instrumental. As the first track, it proves the band hasn’t lost any emotional punch, and although it might be the strongest offering on the album, it signals a strong ten tracks to follow. The guitar driven movements of the first record q43 largely gone, replaced by a larger emphasis on Jamie’s dark interpretations of club music and, if possible, even more space. The band that broke on the scene with sweet bubbling moments like “VCR” and “Islands” have matured beyond their youthful innocence into a dark, unsettling sound.
“Try” finds the band in dark moments of reflection, “I wish you’d been there, I needed you there” as Romy sings over the slow burning wreckage what could have once been club-driven instrumental. The signature Jamie steel drums are present on “Reunion” but ditching the summer joy of “Far Nearer” before breaking into a call-and-response moment over one of the more house-focused moments on the record. The sweeping guitar pace of the first record still appear at times, notably the stuttering garage rhythms on “Sunset” made that much more powerful by its stark surroundings.
Coexist is a release that found the trio fighting what seemed like an uphill battle to prove they are more than a flash in a pan. They ditched the soft-spoken innocence of xx in exchange for a more sparse and unforgiving pallet. xx was the balladry of new love, quiet but triumphant. Coexist is a reflection on what once was, pondering where things went and where they might eventually go. It doesn’t strike quite as hard as their debut, whether that’s the cause of expectations or a slightly different direction isn’t important. Coexist is an album from The xx that is so distinctly them that it’s almost impossible to fail given its level of execution. It’s not the sudden breath of fresh air, but a subtle reminder that they are here to stay. Come winter, a long night, or a slow morning, Coexist will step in as a record of choice for 2012.