The xx match incredible debut album with sophomore effort
Music Review | 4.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 12:09
Back in 2009, The xx released one of the strongest debut albums in recent memory. Its album had a unique sound that blended minimalist electronic beats with emotionally powerful, yet quiet melodies to striking success. The songs captured the feelings of yearning and cold, lonely nights.
With their sophomore effort, “Coexist,” the band has stripped down its songs even further to create spine-tingling tracks about desire and lost love. The two lead vocalists, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, blend their voices to such great effect that their sound is much more than just the sum of its individual parts. Croft’s voice bleeds with longing and effortlessly sells some of the more melodramatic lyrics with her honest sound. Sim’s voice adds a nice balance to Croft’s because his voice is full of both pain and regret. The vocalists play off each other in a way that is always mesmerizing to hear.
While the vocalists are a main component of The xx’s sound, the real star of the band — and the album — is Jamie Smith, who is also known as Jamie xx. Smith’s beats and engineering methodically build these songs through straightforward chord progressions, deft electronic touches and precise guitar notes to create songs that are remarkably powerful given their few components.
Smith’s strongest weapon, though, is his skillful use of silence. No other artist so expertly uses the lack of sound to make everything else on the track seem much more powerful and expressive. Smith eschews the temptation to make bombastic songs and instead focuses on the beauty in the quieter moments of a melody.
“Coexist” is only a slight change from what made The xx’s debut so extraordinary. All the elements of the first album are here except for some of the poppier ones, which have been replaced with a more house music bass line. It works well and keeps the band from sounding tired.
The songs on “Coexist” seem to melt into each other at certain points, which helps the album maintain Smith’s carefully constructed atmosphere and mood. Some might accuse the band of not varying their songs enough, but its consistent sound allows the dream-like tracks to more easily wash over the listener. It also helps sustain the darker and more intimate emotions of the album’s best tracks.
Despite the album’s general minimalism, some of the songs still have head-bobbing rhythms. This includes the standout track, “Reunion,” that manages to remain incredibly hypnotic and trance-like without feeling overbearing.
On the song “Swept Away,” Smith’s beats create a superb track that pushes the band’s boundaries while still feeling like an xx song. The song floats along dreamily, and a light piano riff moves in and out alongside the vocals to create a stirring effect that demands multiple listens.
The songs on “Coexist” are always inviting, despite their heavy emotion. This is because of both the tantalizing beats and the song’s powerful lyrics. On “Sunset,” the vocalists sing, “I always thought it was sad/how we act like strangers
it felt like you really knew me/now it’s like you just see through me.”
Even separated from Croft’s emotional singing, the line is poignant. Lines like this show how much the band has matured and evolved in the past few years.
Other tracks elicit the same kind of emotion with simple lyrics. “Chained” repeats the haunting line, “We used to get closer than this/Is it something you miss?” When both vocalists sing the line together, the song acquires a layer of melancholy.
The song’s two characters long for one another but forever remain separate.
There are few bands whose sound is comparable to The xx’s. Still, the sparse and introspective beats fall in line with the sound of the extraordinary James Blake, the Weeknd and some of Drake’s more experimental tracks, such as “Take Care,” which was coincidentally produced by Jamie Smith.
What is most impressive is how much emotion and power this album squeezes into such a short running time.
Composed of only eleven very quick songs that total just over thirty-seven minutes, “Coexist” is able to recapture and expand on the magic of the band’s sparkling debut without ever sounding repetitive or rushed.
It’s a remarkable feat that further showcases the remarkable talent of the entire band.