Three years ago, The xx broke into the music business with their self-titled debut album. The London trio’s downtempo, atmospheric mix of R&B melodies, electronic percussion and singer-songwriter poetic lyrics of tainted love earned them first, second, third and fourth on The Guardian, NME, Pitchfork Media and the Chicago Tribune’s list of best albums of 2009, respectively.
In a year where Britney Spears, The Black-Eyed Peas and Hannah Montana topped album sales, vocalists Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s style of angst ridden, call-and-response interplay was as melancholy and enigmatic as it was imaginative and original.
The group’s producer and electronic whiz-kid Jamie xx went on to collaborate with Gil Scott-Heron on “We’re New Here,” which is a reworking of Heron’s final album, 2010’s “I’m New Here.”
A standout track from the record, “I’ll Take Care of U,” laid the foundation for Drake and Rihanna’s “Take Care,” one of the year’s biggest hip-hop singles that Jamie produced.
Now the group’s back together for its second studio release and now, more than ever, The xx has something to prove. After a new band’s debut is lauded, it’s the group’s second album that speaks to the band’s validity. On “Coexist,” they don’t disappoint.
“Angeles,” the album’s opener and lead single, is a hauntingly beautiful lullaby. Croft’s voice stands alone on the track as it lies dreamily atop sparse drum kicks and synthesized arpeggios.
On “Chained,” the vocal dynamic duo is reunited, and the two question the familiarity of a once blooming relationship in a bit of double entendre and self-reflectivity. “We used to be closer than this/Is it something you missed?” echoes over bass guitar chords and a slowed down break-beat background.
“Reunion” is a standout track that implements tropical steel drums and a bass heavy, pulsating drum machine reminiscent of a single from “The Knife” in the band’s pre-Fever Ray days.
“Our Song” is a tragically beautiful closer and “Swept Away,” “Tides” and “Sunset” are as lush as their titles would suggest, playing out like co-ed covers of The Cure or The Smiths in their prime.
The xx has a signature style, and it’s written all over this album. Hushed, whispered confessionals over deep picturesque, atmospheric soundscapes was what critics and college campuses fell in love with, so why change it?