“We would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who came to see us play at Bestival. The singing along to ‘Angels’ took our breath away! xx The xx”
The xx posted this warmhearted message to Facebook on September 8, 2012, three days before the official release of their highly-anticipated second album, Coexist. Fans already knew every word.
Not only did this London-based band succeed in creating a second widely-appreciated, unquestionably solid album, they also managed to increase their listener base by hundreds of thousands. How did they do this? By asking a complex question, and attempting to provide a simple answer: How do we coexist?
To examine this query on a worldwide scale, they built a website for the album and used it to conduct an experiment. “The experiment began on September 3, 2012, when a single fan was given the location of [the] website, which hosted a free preview of The xx’s album, Coexist. The experiment ended on September 11 with the worldwide release of the album.” During that time, millions of people from across the globe visited the site, while it tracked the location of each share.
The result is a world map of sweeping lights that does not fail to impress upon us the power of social media and the digital age. Perhaps here in Edmonton, we fans of The xx have the opportunity to coexist in some small form with a listener somewhere off the coast of New Zealand.
But is this coexistence?
While their website might seek to answer a broader, worldwide question regarding coexistence in the 21st century, the album itself brings it back down. It focalizes on the simple interaction between two people. Any two people. In fact, the band name itself is made up of two variables, and I remain convinced that this is no accident: The x and x could be Anyone and Anyone, anywhere in the world.
This open-ended-ness is what makes their music, and specifically their newest album, so widely approachable. If, thematically, their debut album was a heart-on-the-sleeve ode to the honeymoon phase (all sex and wonder and discovery), Coexist wraps itself back up with those post-breakup shivers and asks “why?” And more importantly, “now what?”
The xx are sentimentalists. They do not bombard us with whiny, brooding why-me’s, but breathe in quiet acceptance, and exhale a desire to understand “why us?”
In “Angels,” the album’s opener, Romey Madley Croft’s clean, soft-spoken voice is complemented with simple guitar melodies, swaying and breathing in classic xx fashion: warm, pulsating minimalism. When I first heard this album, my whole world froze for a split-second as Ms. Madley Croft uttered, “you move through the room like breathing was easy.”
Coexist continues in this manner, sliding into “Chained,” the second single, where Madley Croft and co-frontman, Oliver Sim, coexist, but don’t commingle. The dual vocal interaction is primarily monophonic, occasionally ebbing into polyphony, but without harmony. Perhaps this is what it is to be chained.
With each consecutive piece, The xx seem to bring in a new, single element of sound, and allow it to carry the song’s uniqueness, whether it is the steel drums in “Reunion,” or the raw, unplugged a cappella start to “Tides.” However, this simplicity does at times take its toll on lyrical composition. The result is an occasional lack of poetics, hitting the nail a little too obviously on the head, for example, in “Try” with, “hiding it inside / I want you to be mine” – lyrics that might as well have been written with hearts in a pre-teen’s private notebook. Nevertheless, the track “Swept Away” compensates for any shortcomings with a hypnotizing bass-line, and the album resolves with synths revolving like homeward-bound bike tires in the thematically satisfying, “Our Song.”
The xx leaves us with the sense that if trying again is not an option, coexistence certainly is.