Sophomore releases have posed countless challenges for artists, sometimes putting them into the public sphere but more often pushing them into obscurity. As their 2009 self-titled debut launched this south London trio onto the pages of major music magazines and portable music players around the world, new album Coexist has proven The xx to have created a signature sound: the delicate percussion of Jamie Smith coupled with an ethereal lyric tangle between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. The second-person familiarity comes through in “Angels,” the opening track, as Madley Croft whispers secrets like “And everyday/I am learning about you/The things that no one else sees,” and continues right up until “Our Song,” with Sim doubling the closeness with Madley Croft with verses like “I will give you me/And we’ll be/Us” and “And there’s no one else/That knows me/Like you do.” However, the intimacy in Coexist at times seems to get into microscopic proportions, rendering Sim’s message abstract in such tracks like “Fiction.” “Mistaken for a vision, something of my own creation/ Come via light, why do I refuse you?”
But Coexist’s leitmotif, its interplay of binaries, male/female, sound/silence, vision/blindness, is aesthetically achieved in tracks like “Sunset” and “Tides.” With lyrics like “It felt like you really knew me/Now it feels like you see through me,” and “You leave with the tide/And I can’t stop you leaving/I can see it in your eyes/Some things that lost their meaning.” Combined with a subtle blend of voices washing ashore only to be swept away in an ocean of rhythmic bass guitar and drums, The xx has justified and put into relief their choice for the album’s title.
It seems that though The xx’s distinctness had put them on the map, it might also be the very reason that held them back in Coexist, as there was only slight evolution from their debut album, leaving us wanting more in the end. The question remains whether they’re up for the challenge of adding a unique sound in the future.