The xx new album shows maturity with “Coexist”

by Noor Al-Sibai – Staff Writer – [email protected]
What set The xx apart on their 2009 debut “xx” was not their youth, their minimalist-pop stylings or the underlying sexual tension imbued in each atmospheric guitar riff and drum machine beat — it was all of those aspects, combined to create a certain indefinable quality that, according to music criticism database Metacritic, resulted in universal acclaim. The then-teenage Londoners Oliver Sim, Romy Madley-Croft and Jamie “XX” Smith struck gold. By the time they released a statement in December 2011 saying they would release a follow-up, the prospect seemed daunting at best.
The singular presence of their first album — and the almost-insurmountable standard it set for the band — is apparent on their sophomore record, “Coexist,” released Sept. 10.
The tension between the overwhelming success of their first LP and the desire to create something new is apparent from the opening riffs on “Angels,” the first track and single. Aesthetically, it could only be The xx, but rather than the dark instrumental “Intro” on their first record, “Angels” sets the tone of the album — less sexual, more romantic.  
Madley-Croft, the female half of the main vocalists, repeats the phrase, “Being as in love with you as I am,” over the echo-y guitars and bass, distilled down to the word “love” being repeated throughout and ending the song. This track offers the perfect preview to the more grown-up feel of the album.
By the second track, “Chained,” the added maturity is even more apparent—male vocalist Sim’s voice is noticeably deeper than on “xx.” Considering both Madley-Croft and Sim were in their late teens when they recorded their first album, the change seems almost laughable. But Sim’s deepening baritone reflects more than just his crossover into the band’s early 20’s—it denotes their relationship maturity, that they perhaps know a bit more about love or are looking for different sorts of romance than they were on their last LP. The same sense of longing and insecurity that existed throughout the first record is heard here as well, perfectly echoed in their signature harmony toward the end of the track.
After the first two tracks, which also operate as the first two singles, the departures begin. Here the growth and experimentation becomes more pronounced, be it with the steel drum sounds that create a beach-y feel on “Reunion,” or the dance beats on “Sunset” and “Swept Away.” The songs are more up-tempo, and seem more optimistic as well. The darkest track on the album, “Missing,” counters the low mood with organ riffs, and a deliberately loud half-shout of the refrain, “My heart is beating in a different way.” Although the most diverse track on the record, with the inclusion of piano and even a string section, this song manages to sound the most like The xx as their moody guitars remind
you it is indeed the band that stormed on the indie scene with the single “Basic Space” in 2009.
The cheesiness of the closer “Our Song,” containing the line, “I will give you me, and we’ll be us,” is both part and parcel of the older, more-polished sound The xx created on “Coexist.” The saccharine feeling of the track is a culmination of the sweetness exhibited throughout the album. Whether it is due to aging, evolving as musicians or becoming less insecure, one thing is sure — “Coexist” is The xx all grown up.