Album Review: The xx’s Coexist

Photo property of XL Recordings

By Zach Brown |

Besting their self-titled debut album was an almost insurmountable task.  Coming off universal acclaim, British indie pop band The xx needed to bottle the same lightning.  With Coexist, they do just that.

Complete with the same dark bass undertones and haunting vocals, Coexist offers much of the same as xx.  The band’s distinct style and sound shines, straddling a thin line between pop, electronic, and shoe-gaze.  Instead of redefining their sound, The xx masterfully expand on a great idea.

Coexist is less thematically tight and linear than xx.  Still exploring many of the same topics—love, loss, and the blurring lines in between—it is hard to see Coexist as a single vision.  Instead, many songs stand alone, rather than working toward a greater end.  “Angels,” the first track, is bright and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals are chilling.  The last track, “Our Song,” with lines like “I will give you me / And we’ll be / Us,” is sure to be the background music of many a wedding slideshow.

The album works best when The xx are doing what they do best: shaping sounds and telling a continuous story.  Tracks five and six, “Reunion” and “Sunset” bridge thematically and sonically in fantastic fashion.  “Reunion”’s brooding on how a former partner sees someone after a relationship—“Did I see you see me in a new light?”—ends in a thumping, slow drum beat.  That same beat is immediately sped up in the first seconds of “Sunset,” which continues the same idea from a different perspective.  These two songs keep the momentum of the album going in a way that is somewhat even better than the first album, which tends to lose force mid-way through.  The way The xx blend sound and story works perfectly in these two songs, perhaps better than anywhere else in their catalogue.

“Tides” is of note, as well.  The chorus, “You leave with the tide / and I can’t stop you leaving,” reminds this reviewer of Robert Browning’s “Parting at Morning.”  It employs a variety of rhythms that emulate the ocean, including distinctive a cappella vocals that flow in slowly at the beginning of the track.

Because the xx have such a distinct sound, expanding on that vibe was possibly the best path to have taken with this follow-up.  The dark, eerie, and emotional feel remains, but without the soul-crushingly depressing but beautiful ending of the first album. Instead, Coexist closes on an almost uncharacteristically promising note.   The experimentation is not lost either.  There are hints of steel drum, inventive, hypnotic basslines, and enough creative, text-ready lines that will woo anyone (“Why do we waste time / hiding it inside? / I want you to be mine”).

The only real downside to this album is that is incredibly short, clocking in at less than 40 minutes.  For those 40 minutes, however, the passionate sonic journey is engrossing and emotionally stirring.

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