Now here's a[nother] act that puts an uncanny fork in the MRD road, The xx. The London trio and their moody minimalist songs - together with the ambient murmurs of vocalists Romy Madley-Scott and Oliver Sim - provide a solitude of guitar strums and spacious awe together with Jamie 'xx' Smith's synthetic direction as the third member, producer and, most recognizably, the leader and face of the band. Regardless of whether you want to see this as Smith's project or not, it's this bare-bone palette of beats and guitars that has split the music scene into the arguable crowds of lovers and haters. There is no middle ground it seems, and it's all down to the London trio's take on the quieter less-extruded deliverance of melody and rhythm as was detailed in the Mercury prize-winning universally-acclaimed debut. It's no surprise then that this is kept yet expanded upon in variance on the band's follow-up, 'Coexist' which unsurprisingly may not appear as a huge shift in direction, is in fact a tremendously revealing of contrasts of wanting to expand yet maintaining their sound all in harmless unison. The result, then is...as the album suggests, a well-sought coexistence of the new and the old.
'Angels' is a far contrast to xx's opener in that the mood is not of withdrawing tensity, but rather it comes across more warming yet still maintaining that humble solitude we know and love/hate from the band. Romy provides vocals here, but even when the instrumentation is at its simplest - a lonely strum of guitar strings and the heavy padding of drum synths in the back floating teasingly in appearance - her voice still carries that human-esque honesty and vulnerability across this track. And while the vocals still continue that opening honesty on 'Chained' - Oliver once more adding that duality of voices - the track here is more upbeat than previous attempts, yet still maintaining that stretched spaciousness between the brisk echoes of electric guitars and the lowered strum of bass rummaging its way in-between. But again, it's Jamie's production and heightened awareness that molds these sounds together to create this auspicious air about the track despite it being slightly more in substance.
For anyone having come straight from the previous record and into this one, there will be that noticed similarity in the positioning and deliverance of instrumentation. It's clear the methods featured so heavily on their debut are visible here, yes. But all the while, amidst these introverted vocals and enclosures of guitar work and synthetic rhythms, there's, what can only be described, as a sort of shrouded blossoming about the way the music develops. And while this maturity is still kept amidst this shadowy cast of sound, collectively on the planes of each of these track's identities, the results is quite extraordinary. 'Fiction' is unlike anything, emotionally, that The xx have put out before. As Oliver starts off proceedings, the guitars here feel a lot more direct and relatable to the mood set out in the lyrics, 'Last night the World was beneath us/Tonight comes, dear love/We'll be torn apart by the break of day.' It's intensified by Jamie's synths which again continue to sound less and less mechanical and more engrossing and suited to the relational setting of a club or a late evening revelation that this track becomes more and more the visualization of.
But even when the concept or the growing of tension through these emotions is left untainted or built upon, the band still express this strength in realization and continuing on. 'Sunset' especially, carries this acceptive inner-struggle amidst the bubbling of low-key drum beats and outspoken guitars. 'We make believe, I've never seen your face, you neither me' Oliver and Romy carry across in equal hushes of acceptance and struggle, 'You catch my eye/I'll register a smile.' Alone, the feeling carries across quite strongly through the music's isolated simplicity, yet together - in unison and fused into one - the message and theme of moving on, from both sides, gives it that extra depth and level of uncertainty over whether it will actually develop and see through. The romanticism and realization in the record's lyrics may not have come across as clearly and as strongly had the music been shaped in a less awakening state as is present here, but even without the sounds of synths and guitars, because the lyrics are so revealing and emotionally blunt in their context, it sweeps over us like a cloud, and never tries to let go or move on. That unison of moving on yet never letting go is one of the finest usage of vocals, and with it, the overall sound has a lot more of a personal dimension to it.
'Unfold' emphasizes that acceptance of denial and denial of acceptance through its blunt and straight-forward narrowness of lyrics, 'Oh let it unfold/I won't leave it untold/The feeling goes on and on and on'. The echoing effect applied to their voices may provide additional impact, but there's no denying the strength at which these two direct their vocals lies in how outright hypnotic their deliverance comes across as. And on the album's closer 'Our Song', the title certainly emphasizes the music's more humble expression of shared intimacy. The looping drone of guitars and bass notes create an elevating spirituality about the track - the vocals then becoming a carriage, or even a vessel, for the music to simply lift off and take flight. While it is the more leaning towards the left-alone attitude of some electronic genres, that is the stand-out element here, the consistency in keeping both its rhythm and its mood is what compels this track upward and is the most crucial focal point here.
On the whole, it's the very rhythmic continuation and flow of the entire album that makes 'Coexist' such a unique and aspiring listen. On their debut, they showcased how both life and experience can be recreated, not only through music, but by this signature of stripped-back simplicity - thus coming out equally revealing, as much as it was inviting. But here, however, the band have used that same stylizing and method of instrumentation, and instead of simply producing more of the same, have built upon the directness it holds, thus intensifying it to the point where the concept of keeping hold to something, while at the same time letting go, becomes an emotional struggle in itself. It's no surprise then that a title such as this was chosen, as it represents the ideology that such things as love and hate, peace and war, acceptance and denial, can be equal in their effect yet exist in unison amidst all the anxiety and chaos that might ensue around it. And this is an album that sees that exact same struggle come to fruition, and expresses it in as bold and as beautiful as the most simplistic and humblest of sounds such as this, can be.