posted 2012-09-21 18:11:52

The xx’s Coexist

London band releases a follow up to xx

Wen Hao Wang

Staff Writer

The xx’s 2009 self-titled debut album was exceedingly deep and enveloping. Rising from relative obscurity, the London band has since received well-earned attention. In 2010, they won the Mercury Prize, the UK’s most coveted music award. The band’s newly released second album, Coexist, refines their sound even further, providing an exercise in restraint and strength in minimalism.

Like the previous album, crystalline guitars, deep bass and restrained percussion gives way to the seductiveness of co-vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. This time around, however, they are more direct and less “moons and stars,” as Sim said of the first album, which was written in their teens. In the track “Chained,” Madley Croft sings “we used to be closer than this” with the utmost lightness and pangs of reminiscence. Sim joins in a low soothing manner. They continue together: “we used to get closer than this / Is it something that you miss.” These lyrics would be simple, but the duo’s interplay adds an emotional richness rife with sexual subtext. Although they sing in unison, their thoughts feel interior and separate. Like stealing a furtive glance at a past lover in a dim bar, the moment is heart- wrenching.

Working stealthily in the background is Jamie xx, with his deep drums beats and patterned synthesizers building to the song’s midpoint, where Madley Croft and Sim’s yearning align. Since Jamie xx received his own critical acclaim, producing for the likes of Drake on Take Care, he has worked to hone his own musical sensibilities. A prime example is on “Swept Away,” one of the album’s house influenced tracks. Rhythmic synth claps layer with primal beating and R&B vocals for a dance-like vibe, but make no mistake, the song is not a dance record. Just as you may expect it to make a turn, it remains steady, relishing in restraint.

The xx’s sophomore album could have been a different venture, particularly after their initial success. Instead, they refined their sound. Instrumentals beat forth without breaching the sonic space between Madley Croft and Sim. The interplay creates a level of depth that’s as personal as it is universally emotional.