Three extended years without a fresh release -- a sophomore release, for that matter -- can cause a young band to recede into merely a soundtrack of another distant time, rarely resurfaced and shelved for the memories. Yet for ethereal London trio the xx and their latest Coexist, the lengthy wait has heightened the already lofty expectations following the band’s remarkable debut xx. And these three impatient years have proved well worth the time -- for not only a refined sound, but also a keen mastery in both production and concision.
Xx fans won’t be disappointed by the characteristic beats backed by guitars, softly lapping like waves drawn to shore by the gravitational pull of Romy Madley Croft’s disarmingly soulful voice. A pivotal instrument in the xx’s lineup, Croft’s vocals harness a maturity well beyond her years. The guitarlines are even more sparse than on xx, almost tragically concise. Yet the guitarlines function on a very precise plane, much like the album itself does -- extracting or adding anything, much like listening to any one song apart from the rest, would feel entirely out of place.
Lyrically, Coexist sees the band dissecting a failed relationship, intent on understanding where exactly it all went wrong. Similarly to xx, the lyrics still gravitate around the insecurity, lament and redemption that becomes attached to falling out of love. Nonetheless the band never recedes into the somber, post-breakup sentimentality despite tracing the dusty remains of a relationship. No, Coexist becomes the most mature -- albeit cathartic -- of coping mechanisms.
Instead of inciting an impulse to dance, minimal aspects of house music causes a disquieting, subconscious effect on the listener. “Chained” carefully structures itself on the formulaic build of beats, rising like the pace of a palpitating heartbeat and bursting into a shimmer of oscillating sounds, as with “Reunion.” The most experimental track on the album “Missing” features Croft’s vocals not as a centerpiece, but faded and distant from the instrumentation. It makes you wonder what would occur if the xx experimented more with echoing effects.
In truth, Coexist cements the London trio’s roles as masters of manipulating both sound and space. Instead of crafting music with the conscious attempt to entertain a room, the band utilizes careful knowledge of spaciality and natural tension in songs with an almost eerie sense of placement. Although the album admittedly incites less head-nodding than xx, Coexist isn’t any less focused on lyrics per se. Sure, it’s a bit more sparse -- particularly with Romy’s gossamer vocals on single “Angels” solely accompanied by a baritone bass rumbling in the background. It’s a collective of conjoined poems, meticulously attuned to shake both the earth and eardrums alike.