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REVIEW: The XX – Coexist

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Coexist is the second album by English indie pop band, The XX. After producing a beautiful and complex debut album in 2009, I was extremely excited to hear what the duo had to show after listening to their self-titled album constantly.

Their opening track, “Coexist”, sets up the tone for the rest of the album. The track features female vocalist’s Romy Madley Croft’s otherworldly voice with less involved beats happening in the background. The song celebrates love, which is a theme throughout the album.

“Chained”, the second song on the album, plays in a style reminiscent of the group’s first album. A soothing house beat fuels the song along as the two singers emphasize their ability to harmonize. Jamie Smith plays his dreamlike, effect-driven guitar over it all, solidifying that sound that fans of The XX have come to love.

Oliver Sim sings the lead part in “Fiction”, the third track on Coexist. This song returns to the theme of relationships and love with lyrics such as, “fiction, when we’re not together.” While there is a focus on Sim’s voice, the driving force behind this song is the backbeat, which builds beautifully until the very end.

The XX does an excellent job using their vocals and their instrumental melodies to tell a complete story. “Try” emphasizes the band’s ability to harmonize during the chorus of this song, “You know the way I can’t resist you, I try.” The song seems to be a reflection on the trying aspects of a relationship. With peaceful long chords being drawn out over an eerily anxious melodic motif, the song allows the listener to feel that uneasy feeling that the band is attempting to recreate.

The fifth track, “Reunion”, uses steel drums and call and response lyrics to accent the beautiful conversation that these two singers can have in a song. The vocals are featured in the beginning, but by mid-song the focus shifts to a pulsing house beat in the background. The beat transitions flawlessly into the next track, “Sunset”. With that bass still pumping, a renewed sense of life is given to the album. Up to this point in Coexist, the band has highlighted each of the singer’s voices, shown that they can still make inventive beats and harmonies, and in “Reunion”, they show you that they can definitely still make you dance, too.

“Missing” returns to that classic feel that The XX is known to produce. Once again, lyrics and the beat mesh together to form a complete story. Lyrically, the song is recounting a lost relationship. A haunting bass that plays throughout the song represents the beating heart referred to in the lyrics.

“Tides”, the eighth track, opens with the two singing without any music in the background in an attempt reel the listener in. Similarly to the ocean tides, when one aspect of the song washes out, a new aspect comes rushing back in. Following the a cappella vocals, a heavy persistent beat kicks in. When the groove hits on this song, it hits hard. Any fan of dancing won’t be able to sit still during this song, guaranteed.

“Unfold” features an array of complex patterns that almost seems dizzying at first. The song features a beautiful guitar melody, but is accompanied by an almost rushed and offbeat bass. It is not until the bass is isolated that you realize it is representative of a pounding heartbeat. This is a song of a broken relationship unfolding, and it represents that feeling perfectly with lyrics like, “Oh out of sight out of mind, doesn’t mean you’re not mine, the feeling goes on.” That frantic heartbeat bass over a calm melody represents that chaotic inner feeling of panic that is masked to the world by a false calm expression.

“Swept Away” is The XX’s version of classic house music. The lyrics and vocals for this song are great, but the main focus in this tune is unmistakably the beat. The bass pumps solidly throughout the song, and becomes so ingrained that it seems automatic. After getting into a comfortable groove for almost four and half minutes, the song leaves the listener with ten seconds of silence before the next track kicks in, applying an almost necessary restart to your brain.

The final track on the album, “Our Song”, is a beautiful duet that features both singers singing identical lyrics. Recounting a lost relationship with backwards guitar playing adds an ominous effect to the entire song.

In the end, Coexist seems to play out in both similar and different ways when compared to their self-titled release. The singing style in the album is very reminiscent of their previous work, with the real change coming in their use of beats. The band seems to be exploring their ability to generate house beats that get you lost within them rather than focusing on complicated melodies and funk grooves. While the album seems to play a little slower than their self-titled album, their ability to tell a story through their lyrics and music is extremely impressive, and adds an extra element to their music. Their songs become one breathing organism rather than a bunch of parts put together, producing that surreal sound combined with identifiable lyrics from The XX that leave fans playing these songs over and over.

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