The xx – Coexist
After lead single ’Angels’ dropped a few months ago, it was clear that The xx’s second album was not going to deviate too much from their stunning 2009 debut. The fragile, emotional and oh-so-human voices, framed by Jamie Smith’s brooding and atmospheric production, was what made their debut such a massive hit – but the danger with such a sparse and idiosyncratic sound is that it could start to get a bit samey and cliched quite quickly.
But if you’re The xx, and blessed with not only two of the most soulful singers around but also one of the most enigmatic and inventive producers, such dangers don’t really apply. Coexist may not differ too much from its predecessor, but there’s no hint of The xx running out of ideas.
On first listen, the entwined vocals of Romy and Oliver grab the attention as they softly and soulfully whisper their way through passionate, emotional and absorbing love songs. ’Angels’ has Romy movingly describing being in love: ”Light reflects from your shadow / It is more than I thought could exist / You move through the room / Like breathing was easy / If someone believed me / They would be as in love with you as I am”. On ’Chained’, Oliver gets to add his own distinct vocals – brilliantly playing off Romy in an emotionally charged account of a relationship going wrong.
As you can probably guess, Coexist continues in the same vein – with the two vocalists weaving deep, emotional and at times inspirational tales of love, despair and all those pesky emotions in between.
As good as the vocalists are, the real star of Coexist is producer Jamie. The more you listen to it the more his production starts to seep in – adding layer upon layer of atmosphere onto each track. Whether he’s punctuating the vocals with drum-patterns and guitars ’Fiction’, building tension and intrigue with loops ’Try’ or putting together an infectious bass groove ’Sunset’, Jamie’s vision is the very heart and soul of this record. His best work is on ’Swept Away’, in which he starts off delicately before taking over completely with a blissed out, bass-led dance-groove that will probably keep remixers chained to their MacBook’s for the next few months.
If there’s a criticism of Coexist, it’s that the incessant intensity gets a bit overbearing – causing it to sag slightly in the middle. But if you plug yourself in and give it all of your attention, you’ll find Coexist just as absorbing and rewarding as their stellar debut.