The xx’s ‘Coexist’ both innovative and familiar

Photo courtesy of Young Turks Records.

Largely out of the public eye after the positive buzz surrounding their 2009 self-titled debut album faded off the front pages of music rags, London-based alternative band The xx are back. The band’s debut claimed a place on “Best of the Year” lists for much of 2009, and the trio is back at it with the release of “Coexist.”

From track to track, the album features the same dreamy riffs that caught listeners’ attention three years ago, with both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim contributing their vocals, and the last member of the trio, Jamie Smith, contributing largely with production.

The first single released was the track, “Angels,” which is definitely the standout composition on the album. It’s the listener’s first experience with this new incarnation of the band — a taste of the hesitantly optimistic side of The xx. Whereas the hit single off of the group’s debut was “Crystalised,” a desperately somber track believed by some to refer to hard drug use, “Angels” is a blatant love song. Croft’s voice is highlighted on the single singing, “But I think I’m ready / As long as you’re with me / Being / As in love with you as I am.” While there are definitely musical similarities between the two tracks, the effect is entirely opposite.

Even the album cover art reflects this transition. Both albums have identical artwork, except that the first is black and the second is white.

Though brighter, the album isn’t full of professions of blind love. The second track, “Chained,” is an ode to the darker side of relationships; the suffocating side, full of misunderstandings and bruised egos. Those desperate strains of confusion continue on into the third track, “Fiction,” which is about a man who falls in love with someone who only makes an appearance in his dreams. The latter song, while still ethereal, begins to incorporate threads of trance and house music, a trend that continues throughout the rest of the work.

Halfway through the album, the band begins playing with unexpected musical influences. The track, “Reunion,” features an airy steel drum that sets it apart from the rest of the songs. The songs then segue into a few deceptively fragile duets between Croft and Sims. The guitar influence in “Missing” is eerie and ensures this is a strong contender for top track, while “Sunset” unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle.

Second only to “Angels” is another song that immediately stands out upon listening through the album. “Unfold” sits comfortably near the end of the album. If “Missing” is the perfect soundtrack for a dream, then the song listeners fall asleep to is “Unfold.” It seems more tangible than the rest of the songs, with stronger vocals on the parts of both singers and fewer instances of words or music trailing off into nothingness, and it plays like a reflection of all of the songs that have come before it.

Experiencing The xx’s “Coexist” is, in some strange way, like listening to a Thievery Corporation album underwater. The beat is comforting and regular — there are moments of aural genius — but all of the edges are blurred. There are one or two tracks that disappear amongst the rest, but that’s likely because the notable tracks are, for all their subtlety, outstanding.

Reach the reporter at svhabib@asu.edu