Some bands are immaculate upon conception. They so successfully inhabit their own niche, their own sound, and their own sense of style, that any continued development appears entirely pointless. The xx’s embarkation point and final destination appeared to be one and the same. Their debut, xx, struck out through its chilly rhythms and sumptuous silences, conveying a crushing weight of understated romantic symbiosis. Few bands could claim a more profound or immediate impact, and if it was tough act for the collective indie world to follow, then it’s a thankless task for The xx themselves.
Sophomore album Coexist retreats inward – this might sound fearful, but it is an incredibly brave artist choice. The sweeping tranquility and precise, but still warmly ragged, indie of their debut is replaced by fierce intimacy. There is nowhere for the listener to hide. “Angels” sets the tone. A masterful ballad, and a rare solo outing for Romy Madley Croft, the track is almost naggingly beautiful -all nervous anticipation and unguarded devotion. It’s stark, and Coexist only grows starker. Each track is stripped to its barest elements, to the point where Romy and Oliver are communicating to the silences themselves. While they mirror and responded to each other, there is never a sensation of dialogue, these are two dark, conflicted, fragile, and often brazenly intellectually internal monologues.
Where the debut thrilled, Coexist is content to rake over the emotional leaves. The sensation is often queasy and oppressive, as the glorious highs of “Angels” is replaced by the frosty lows of “Fiction”. The album is so fraught and intense, that even when the hushed pauses are replaced by Jamie xx’s signature beats (“Try”, “Swept Away”), the sly winds and buoyant basslines appear to squirm and strain against these grinding rationalizations. Coexist will divide opinion, the craft is astonishing, but it’s almost too poised – to the point where it becomes a harrowingly listen. The warmth and awkwardness of the debut is missing, and for some it will make Coexist unapproachably frank. Still, there are few artists in existence capable of making a track as piercing as “Sunset”, let alone “Angels”. David Hayter