Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The xx is an exemplary band that excels in doing less. The London trio made up of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith make music that hardly ever gets louder than a whisper, yet still manages to be enchanting. Their signature sound, inspired by modern R&B and featuring the vocal tandem of Croft and Sim, won them universal critical acclaim on their self-titled debut album.
The xx have released their sophomore follow up “Coexist” after a long three years that kept fans diligently waiting and expectations steadily increasing. The xx have certainly lived up to those expectations, foregoing the sophomore slump and creating another masterfully crafted album.
The xx make music that exemplifies minimalism. The album art for both of their albums features one large x against a plain background with no other text. Even the first eight track names on “Coexist” are a single word. The minimal sounds they create manage to be breathtakingly beautiful in their simplicity, the pinnacle of the group’s success. Their sound usually is nothing more than a few bass notes, some guitar, a drum machine, and vocals.
The dual vocals of Croft and Sim work perfectly together. The xx often sing about relationships, love and heartbreak, and the male-female vocal tandem works flawlessly for the subject matter. Croft has a great voice that has a tinge of pain in it, making it all the more intriguing. Sim himself is not a particularly exceptional singer, but his low and somewhat scratchy voice pairs excellently with Croft’s.
“Angels,” the opening track on the album, starts off with some simple guitar strumming and then Croft comes in with her beautiful voice. She quietly sings, “You move through the room like breathing was easy / If someone believed me / They would be / As in love with you as I am.” Her voice shines on this track — an excellent opener for the album.
“Chained” is the next track on the album and it features the vocals of both Croft and Sim as they sing back and forth to one another. The song is the morose telling of a couple who smothered each other and then drifted apart. Croft sings “We used to be closer than this / We used to get closer than this / Is it something you miss?”
“Coexist” does well as an album because it flows perfectly together and gives listeners a window into the intimate struggles of a relationship. The tracks go back and forth from being happy to extremely depressing, following the tumultuous path that relationships often travel.
“Try” starts out with a hauntingly twisting guitar chord before falling away to allow Sim’s vocals to enter, then re-emerging in the background throughout the song. Croft sings “If we try once more / would you give me it all / I won’t believe it ‘till I can feel it / can you feel it?” The lyric is a good allusion to the type of music The xx make: music that pulls on your heartstrings and draws you in slowly.
The xx have done a tremendous job on their sophomore effort, creating a dazzling and introspective album, delving into both heartbreak and blissful joy. Every note is meticulously planned, and the result is an album that is infinitely re-listenable.