The XX, ‘Coexist’ – Album Review
It’s as good as you hoped it would be. That’s the long story short on ‘Coexist,’ the xx‘s restrained and sensuous sophomore album.
As wonderful as the album is, though, you need to be patient with it. Wade into ‘Angels,’ wherein will-o’-the-wisp guitarist-vocalist Romy Madley-Croft whispers of dreams and romance and possibility, twisting the l in its “love, love, love” chorus like a guitarist bends a note. The velveteen vibrancy of her voice animates the album, and it’s complimented by her come-hither compatriot, bassist-vocalist Oliver Sim.
Sim makes his first appearance with ‘Chained,’ reaffirming this London group’s defining characteristic: Their songs are conversations. Sim and Madley-Croft sing with immense intimacy, creating a sound suited for both earbud and subwoofer. When the beat drops away, and Madley-Croft breathes a chorus of, “We used to get closer than this/ Is it something you miss?” the answer is, well, yes.
Here, even more than on their beloved 2009 debut, absence is presence, whether in the troubled synths and distant guitars of ‘Try,’ the trembling steel drum of ‘Reunion’ or the shuffled beats and tiptoed strings of ‘Tides.’ With a deft touch and a prodigal streak, the Mercury Prize winners have mastered their own distinctive sound, as gleaming as it dark, as heavy as it is light.
Another gift is their grace in combining gentle, journal-like lyrics with toe-tapping beats. Though not as dance-floor-ready as the first, tracks like the nu-disco of ‘Sunset’ and steel-drum-accented ‘Reunion’ give ‘Coexist’ a fair share of head-nod moments. But at its core, the album is open and vulnerable, as exemplified in the oceanic ‘Missing,’ a masterwork of crestfallen craftsmanship that finds Sim and Madley-Croft trading call-and-response confessionals of “hearts beating in different ways” and “ooo-ee-ooohs.”
Attempting to describe the emotional effect of ‘Coexist’ is bound to yield tangled metaphors. There is a sense here of being underwater — of reliving that childhood sensation of cannonballing into the deep end, feeling the momentum of downward force disperse through liquid, transfering into buoyancy, shouting — lungs full of air — to be let out. It’s the same sequence, you might say, as falling in love. It is the gain and loss of love that ‘Coexist’ explores, a great surrendering of insecurities and jagged edges, made soft with kindness. Or, as Madley-Croft says in album closer ‘Our Song,’ “All the walls I built to hide behind, you walk through, you just do.”
Let the xx in. It’s well worth it.