Good luck finding a modern band that even comes close to the lush, dreamy sound of British indie pop group The xx — pronounced “Ex Ex.”
We live in a time when most pop songs are filled with layer upon layer of thumping beats and autotune, but The xx is no Carly Rae Jepsen.
It’s been three years since the release of the critically acclaimed debut “xx” in 2009. It was this album that landed them at the top of just about every “best of” list and snagged them the coveted Mercury Prize in 2010, awarded annually for the best album from the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.
Days before the worldwide release of the new album on Sept. 11, fans were given a link to stream the entire album online. Listeners were able to track the sharing of the album through The xx’s official website and watch in real time as it spread around the globe.
Publicity stunts aside, their sophomore album “Coexist” isn’t a far cry from the sound and execution of the first album. Each song is delicately crafted and possesses a subtle nuance that reveals time well spent in the studio fine-tuning their unique sound.
While other bands lay it on thick, The xx is the master of minimalism. Each one of its songs is a subtle concoction of understatements. The sound is soft, wistful and understated. The lyrics are short, simple and understated. Everything about them, right down to their sleek, black-on-black look, is carefully planned and polished.
“Angels” is the first single off the album and showcases guitarist Romy Madley-Croft and her soft, breathy voice. The muted melody builds to a gentle climax as she repeatedly croons the word “love” alongside a nearly nonexistent bass line. The drumbeat builds tension, before being stripped away entirely.
On “Sunset,” Madley-Croft is accompanied by bassist Oliver Sim, whose voice ranges from a husky whisper to an almost Springsteen-like growl. Their harmonies are soothing, playing well off each other as the melody builds to a gentle dance beat.
There are hints of electronic dance music in “Sunset,” which can be accredited to drummer and keyboardist Jamie Smith — known by stage name Jamie xx — who is a proficient remix artist and producer.
Madley-Croft and Sim’s voices travel in and out of each song, filled with a longing for lost romances and the pain from jagged betrayals. The lyrics are direct and free from the flourishes and frills that are so common with other artists.
In “Try,” when Madley-Croft sings, “You say what you would have done / You wouldn’t have been there / Wish you had been there / Needed you there,” you can hear the heartbreak in her voice.
“Coexist” manages to feel complex, despite its restrained execution. However, there are songs that feel less complete, channeling the overall mood of the album but missing a distinctive voice.
The album exudes a mellow feeling that flows through every song. It puts you into a dreamlike state with mixed emotions and it gives you nostalgia for something you lost or never even had to begin with.
Although there isn’t a single tune that really stands out from the rest, the album’s charm is the way it feels like an album as opposed to a compilation of tracks. It’s a chronicle about love, loss and finding your way.
Don’t be put off by the muted sounds or lack of an upbeat dance track on “Coexist.” This is exactly what “chill” sounds like. If you give it a chance, it’ll grow on you. Sometimes, the bare minimum feels so good.