Since their eponymous 2009 debut, moody Brit rockers The xx have been touring the world, and apparently, growing up as a band. Producer and band leader Jaime xx, aka Jaime Smith, has been expanding his already impressive repertoire by collaborating with Adele, Radiohead, Florence and the Machine, and the late Gil Scot-Heron. All of this was leading to something truly amazing when Smith finally reunited with his band mates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim in a North London photography studio.
“Coexist” is an album that deals in contrasts and contradictions. It’s a work that can be described as incredibly empty, but has a rich and vast texture to it. Its sounds are rolling and distant, but its lyrics are grounded and heart-stoppingly personal. There is an astonishing amount of affection and disaffection at the same time. The album’s poignancy really lies not in its notes and tones, but in its pauses and silences.
Smith has definitely come into his own as a producer, taking the experience he gained through his collaborations and influences from the electronic dance scene, dub and reggae (“Reunion”) particularly to mold “Coexist” into something that breaks the xx mold. Their first album was praised for having tight, brisk, radio-friendly pop songs. For their sophomore album, Smith decided to eschew the traditional verse-chorus model and strip down their sound into something truly delightful.
They have kept their trademarks of aural, atmospheric guitar riffs and sultry lyrics, but have given them a low-key sound that is somehow much more dance-friendly (“Swept Away”). The narrative behind the lyrics has also changed. The story in the lyrics of their first album was that of a young couple professing their love for each other. The embittered and wounded lyrics of “Coexist” add another layer of depth, with vocalists Sim and Croft seemingly telling both sides of how the couple is lamenting the disintegration of the love and trust in their relationship.
“Coexist” is a triumph, a wonderful experiment in minimalism. Jamie Smith did more with less and created a glowing, meditative, mature album that conveys its quiet and subdued pain in a wholly transcendent fashion.