‘Coexist ’ (XL Recordings )
Recommended Track'Unfold' 'Missing'
Since their Mercury-winning debut, The xx’s producer and beat maker Jamie Smith (or Jamie xx, for professional purposes) has been busy. Not only has he reworked the late Gil Scott-Heron’s final album and produced a single for Drake and Rihanna, but he’s also released his own steel pan-assisted club banger ‘Far
Nearer’. Thus, when the fragile, breath-in-the-ear ‘Angels’, the first single from The xx’s second album, appeared online in August, it caused a minor ripple of discomfort. ‘It sounds like their first album’, people moaned, as if that were a bad thing. ‘It’s not as dancey’, crowed others. Some flirtations with two-step on ‘Swept Away’ aside, ‘Coexist’ definitely isn’t The xx go clubbing, and is all the better for it.
What ‘Coexist’ is, though, is a refi nement and crystallisation of their debut. The songs are still built around
Chris Isaak-esque guitar figures that emerge out of the spaces in the songs like light piercing through a fog, but
Jamie’s collection of things to push and hit have broadened slightly to include live drums and his trusty steel pans (there are even strings on the loping ‘Tides’). But the most revelatory thing remains the vocal interplay between Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim. The relatively brisk ‘Chained’ has them fi nishing each other’s sentences and cooing questions at each other (“Did I hold you too tight? Did I not let enough light in?”), while the brilliantly dramatic ‘Missing Oliver’ croons “my heart is beating, in a different way” as Romy’s wordless sighs echo around looming guitars and off-kilter beats. Throughout, the pair exchange lines about separation and isolation, which makes the sudden moments where their voices coalesce all the more incredible.
However, it’s the unabashed loveliness of the closing ‘Our Song’ that hits hardest. Over a slowly quickening drum pulse and a backwards guitar sample, childhood friends Romy and Oliver duet, “there’s no one else who
knows me like you do; what I’ve done, you’ve done too”. Its purity is breathtakingly sweet. Like their debut, ‘Coexist’ works best when enjoyed as a complete album, the band able to lull you slowly into their own world for 35-minutes.