Back in 2009, The xx made their way into the hearts of indie fans with their sleek and sensual first album. It was breathy, moody, electronic, and danceable: a combination of elements that seemed to strike resonance in younger audiences with their minimalist R&B sound. Consisting of guitar, bass and drum machine, the first album made waves and ended up atop a lot of year-end lists as this band transitioned from unknown to popular in the scope of the indie world in their buzz-band success. Now, three years later, Coexist begs the question: can this band power through their rapidly achieved success and be more than a buzz-band?
The two songs that they released as singles make their appearance early on this sophomore release. “Angels,” is up first, and it serves to introduce the band’s new sound. The familiar deep and soft vocals of lead female vocalist Romy Madley Croft greet you, along with impossibly more minimalist backing instrumentation. It’s a slower, mellower track, which is a common theme for this album. The next song and other single “Chained” picks up the pace, with a faster beat provided by the drum machine, and a groovy guitar riff towards the end. Both of these songs provide a palette for the rest of the album, as most of the songs fall under the categorization of these two tracks. Other immediate standouts include “Sunset” and “Swept Away,” which fall as more musical and sonically interesting tracks.
It’s difficult to categorize this album as either interesting or fairly dull when it is so far in the shadow of the first album. At first glance, the sound of Coexist feels overwhelmingly empty; it’s missing those sharp guitar riffs that made the music edgy and playful in the first place. However, when you’ve gone through the album a few times and let go of your qualms that it’s not, in fact, the exact same tone of the album that was released three years ago, this collection of songs becomes a natural progression for The xx. The group relies less on breakdown after breakdown and focuses on a deeper, more somber overall sound. You won’t find the overwhelmingly playful waves of electronic elements that previous tracks, such as “VCR,” but instead you’ll find that waves that don’t bounce quite as high, keeping a lower profile.
Coexist is very much a sophomore album in that the band progressed their sound, making it drastically different from their first album and garnering a label of ‘maturity,’ which allows them to move past the hype and establish themselves as a sold Such a change can be noted even upon the differences in the artwork of these two releases. The first is stark, with harsh lines in a bold, black and white display, whereas this album displays the same ‘x,’ but with a soft swirling of color on the inside. What will be different about the design of the next album, and will this band be able to progress yet again, while keeping the fans of their original sound?