When London’s The xx released their self-titled debut (QRO review) in 2009, no one could have any idea how well it would be received and how far it would take them. The ultra-somber tones (matched with the band’s all-black attire – QRO photos), danceable yet depressing, felt as revelatory and compelling as New Wave probably did in the early eighties – but without sounding like a retread of New Wave. The group jumped from opening daytime shows (QRO photos) to headlining massive evening ones (QRO live review). So how have they fared with the dreaded follow-up record, Coexist? They’ve hardly reinvented themselves, but still deliver an exceptional tone and mood.
Coexist does trend even darker and starker, with less instrumentation (possibly due to the departure of second guitarist Baria Qureshi in 2009 – QRO photos with Qureshi). This gives the new album a more intimate feel, especially with opening singles “Angels” and “Chained”, which manage to be both sexy and tragic, yet are anything but over-the-top (this is a band playing well under-the-top). Starting with the two singles does mean that the rest of Coexist struggles to match that opening height (though the restraint of “Sunset” does it best). Also, many songs either feel like ‘run-of-the-mill’ xx by this point (even though their sound is still so new and not copied – but there are definitely reminders of hit xx single “Crystalized” in Coexist‘s “Tides”), while others seem like stabs too far outside of their sound, especially when the rhythm and even style stop-starts & changes, such as between the singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft & singer/bassist Oliver Sim’s parts on “Try”.
The xx faced a very difficult task, the fabled ‘sophomore curse’ bands have after breakthrough records (even if the breakthrough isn’t their freshman album…). However, they were helped by no one else truly or even closely capturing The xx sound. Coexist can’t repeat the group’s meteoric rise, but does show that they are very much still here and still important. And still strong.