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The xx - Coexist

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Artist: The xx

Album: Coexist

Label: Young Turks

Review date: Sep. 10, 2012

It’s right there in the title: For their second album, London’s The xx have subtly tweaked their popular debut’s formula, looking at relationships from a slightly different angle. Sonically, they’re retreating further into their womblike sound; spiritually, their woundedness floats in amniotic fluid that conveys a bit more security. Maybe they’re a little more reconciled to the impossibility of lovers merging into a single being, and are turning their attention to the give-and-take of intimacy versus basic aloneness. It sounds like they’re trying less hard musically, too, treating their songs as entities distinct from their increasingly ethereal musicianship: They intervene to push a song forward just as much as they let them glide to a pause or develop into an unexpected new form. It gives Coexist’s 11 tracks an unbounded feel, like they exist and merge with a much larger sense of the world that contains them.

The expectation that Coexist would be a more electronic album, given producer Jamie xx’s extracurricular activities — remixing Gil Scott-Heron’s final album for XL, releasing his own “Far Nearer”/“Beat For” 12”, and producing Drake’s “Take Care” — is both met and frustrated here. This album certainly sounds more produced, but the band’s investment in studio time mostly means sighing washes of prismatic reverb rather than a new architecture of synths and drums. When Jamie xx steps out of his U.K. garage–lite comfort zone and into house territory on “Swept Away,” the kick drum hangs strangely back, content to play a fairly ornamental role far removed from the genre it’s referencing.

Still, many of the album’s best moments are its most… well, not beat-driven, but beat-bedazzled. These carefully groomed choices suit Coexist’s tendency to drift pleasantly from one bit to the next, even as it addresses romantic unease. “Well I know all the words to take you apart,” the band’s twin vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims sing in weak unison on “Our Song.” Even in the midst of pledging devotion, they make room for hurt as well as steadfastness.

It’s nice to hear a band weather sudden internet fame calmly, as if their sophomore release were a trust fall. Once its modest novelty wears off, though, the album has a few malnourished moments. On “Fiction” and “Try,” the band seems to be coasting a bit, drowsily summoning the same scenarios as if they’re unsure how to get to the album’s more understated second half without losing the listener’s attention. But at its best, Coexist is flooring. “Our Song” concludes the album with the expected amount of catharsis, but the album’s first song, “Angels,” is The xx’s most deeply felt and elegantly pulled-off moment so far: “I know you know what I mean,” Madley Croft sings, her voice reaching for something so familiar it’s ineffable. If we didn’t know, we wouldn’t be listening.

By Brandon Bussolini

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