The success of The xx lies in the firmness with which its songs are built. On the trio’s sophomore record, Coexist, British wunderkind producer Jamie Smith is like a mad scientist creating swirling, house-tinged beats. He throws sharp steel drums next to wobbles that rumble so loudly they engulf headphones, or he makes synthesizer screeches so guttural that they could be mistaken for a wild animal’s cry. This recipe—although chaotic and even at times jarring—acts as Coexist’s guiding light. The xx’s self-titled debut illustrated the effectiveness of an empty sound, unafraid to lure the listener in by accenting gaps between delicately drawn soundscapes. Coexist presents a version of The xx that listeners will recognize, but cleans everything up a bit, subtly stretching and improving the formula that won acclaim.
Throughout the record, vocalists/instrumentalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft craft a sophisticated blend of droning harmonies that are both beautiful and sweet without being overtly earnest. The record’s first single, “Angels,” is a driving, soaring song that sets the album’s tone, fluttering around the idea of being in love—a pretty basic concept that nonetheless provides the center of Coexist’s lyrical themes. If xx was about fucking, Coexist is about dealing with the trials and tribulations of a relationship. Tracks like “Sunset,” “Tides,” and “Swept Away” all focus on different stages of romantic love, from infatuation to frustration to all the other stuff that falls in between. These songs are danceable, but—like the rest of the band’s body of work—would also be the ideal soundtrack for lying on the floor of a dark room and making out.
“You would’ve been there / I wish you’d been there / I needed you there,” Madley Croft sings on “Try,” her voice cracking over the huge, voluptuous bassline. These songs aren’t simply declarations; they are the thought process of how to deal with interpersonal struggles. “We bear everything in our music,” Madley Croft recently told Pitchfork, and she’s not lying. In a way, some of the group’s lyrics could be pulled from post-breakup emails that should never, ever be sent—and that voyeuristic quality, sitting upon Smith’s exquisite foundation of beats, makes it all strangely enticing.