Looking back, it still seems strange that a record as unassuming as The xx’s debut became such a smash. Located on the fringes of indie and dance, it built its unique sound not on its guitars or its beats, but its absence of them. With their whispered harmonies and ghostly guitars it often seemed as though The xx were trying to extract as much emotion from as little instrumentation as possible. Though understated to the point of being almost non-existent it managed that rare feat of picking up both acclaim and mainstream appeal, as well as paving the way for other minimalist beat-makers like James Blake and SBTRKT.
Now their follow-up record has arrived, it’s clear The xx have chosen to refine their sound, rather than expand upon it. Though it may seem like the path of least resistance, and there’s nothing on Coexist that would be out of place on their debut, their sound is still so special that more of the same is no bad thing. If anything, on Coexist The xx have taken their sound to its extreme, stripping away any instrumentation that could be deemed even remotely unnecessary and leaving listeners with a set of songs that are positively skeletal in their construction. As before, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim exchange ghostly vocals and guitar lines over Jamie xx’s ambient beats and as before, the spaces between the vocals contain almost as much pain and heartbreak as Croft and Sim’s devastating harmonies. Lead track Angels is almost unbearably pretty and though it is one of Coexists stronger cuts, it’s fairly indicative of the album as a whole. It’s the tracks with more prominent focus on beats, like Fiction and Sunset, that are the strongest and the only real curveball comes in the form of Try’s sultry eastern-influenced guitar line.
Coexist does little The xx haven’t done already, but then the debut album was a very good record and so too is Coexist. While it won’t win over the sceptics, Coexist will no doubt find itself just as cherished as The xx’s debut. They’ll need to expand their horizons a little for album number three though.