The first time I heard The xx's Coexist, I was browsing the racks at the local record store -- ironically, holding this very release in my hand with every intention of buying it based on my great love for their 2009 debut. The naked sounds of the new album washed over me as I shuffled the stack of used cds in my hands, and I felt... bored. I felt a little annoyed, even. Where were the beats? Where were the head-bopping melodies and the singable lines like I am yours now/ So now I don't ever have to leave/ I've been found out/ So now I'll never explore (from "Islands")? Where were the soft hushes made quieter by the cranked up guitars and drum samples that follow?
Disappointed, I put the album back on the shelf.
...but curiosity and optimism got the best of me, and soon Coexist found its way into my speakers. After a few more listens, The xx won out.
It's more unplugged than the first record, as unbelievable as that concept seems, and is minimal in both production and volume. The stark poetry of internalized electronic pop experimentation doesn't always work -- "Reunion," with its steel drum sounds and lack of a cohesive melody grates on my nerves more with each listen -- but when it does, it's as gorgeous as anything off of the first album.
"Chained,""Fiction," and "Swept Away" are the easiest songs to grasp hold of, with the subtle dance beat tickling the background behind the male/female dual vocals of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft. Producer Jamie xx has, once again, found a way to marry electronic sounds with real world voices in order to create something impossibly beautiful.
"Tides" starts as a slow-as-molasses nearly a capella performance by the pair before easing into a haunting pop melody that owes thanks to both The Doors and former tour mates, Hot Chip -- a modern age psychedelic groove, piled deep with mood, but danceable all the same.
Much like The Cure, The xx will have you swaying with a smile one minute, and crying into your black lace gloves the next. "Missing," which finds Sims sounding nearly as baritone as Leonard Cohen, and the long-distance ache of "Unfold" are sweet demonstrations of pain and longing. And, let's face it, some sick part of us all just looooves to wallow in those aches. At least, with a band like The xx, the wallow often comes with a dance-beat.