The xx’s intense, beautiful debut album of 2009 was cloaked in a graceful, deep melancholia and swept them to the Mercury Music Prize. That’s made the difficult second album a whole lot tougher. Which is perhaps why ‘Coexist’ feels less of a leap forward, more a subtle progression.
It’s also the sound of Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith growing up in the full gaze of a smitten public. Lead single ‘Angels’ opens proceedings; Romy’s guitar pickings, breathy, fragile vocals and textured percussion build a cavernous, oppressive mood. ‘Chained’, with its percussive, dubsteppy touches, is a (slightly) jollier affair. It’s one of several tracks where Romy and Oliver share mic duties, their tender rapport recalling pioneering indie/dance duo Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl. When making The XX’s debut they exchanged lyrics by email.
For ‘Coexist’ the trio hired a room in Angel, north London, and wrote with each other close by. The lyrics feel more intimate; dare we say it, more content? They focus on the redemptive power of love; its preciousness and the fear of losing it. “You know I know your heart… I want to mend your heart,” they croon on ‘Our Song’. But The XX are very much a trio. ‘Sunset’, with its subtle, muffled house rhythm and kicks wrapped in gauze, is one of several tracks showcasing the influence of Jamie XX.
Last year’s remix of Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’ confirmed his keen ear for the dancefloor; it’s ever present on ‘Coexist’ but in much more subdued form, like the dubby, submarine 4x4 beat that closes ‘Reunion’. There are steel drums, mandolins and acres of space; in fact, silence might be their most important instrument. And while album three may require a reboot from The XX, that’s for another day. Right now, when it comes to fusing indie rock and dance, no one pulls it off quite as elegantly.
File under Indie love songs with an electronic heartbeat
Download ‘Angels’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Reunion’
Like this? Try Burial ‘Untrue’ (Hyperdub)