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An evolved sound, a familiar tone

The xx performig in Milan, Italy at the Alcatraz on July 5, 2010. Their newest album, Coexist, comes out this September and is currently available online. (Source: Flickr)

Haunting, beautiful, and well-mixed, The xx’s sophomore album Coexist, which is available for purchase September 14th (but is available for live-stream now) could be the story of a young relationship.

It’s all there — lamentations on the hard fall of infatuation, the pain of misunderstanding, the loss of closeness and the inevitable change that occurs, the question of history, the pull to rekindle old romances, old friendships, to find one another again one night on a dance floor, the declaration and gift of giving in love, of that wonder of
finding someone.

“There’s no one else that knows me like you do, what I’ve done you’ve done, too, the walls I hide behind, you walk through, you just walk through.” Lyrics that may in other bands be overly emotional, or not have enough depth, resonate over the minimalistic, well-crafted, artful way Jamie Smith produces and mixes Coexist.

As the second album, Coexist shares many of the same attributes as their first release, xx, with a few exceptions: the band members have grown up, enjoyed the benefits the success from their first album, and have developed further as artists.

Producer and beatmaker Jamie Smith, lauded as one of the industry’s most prolific arrangers following The xx’s first album, brings his unique, dynamic style back from arranging and producing abroad and into Coexist. Romy Madley Croft, The xx’s guitarist, sings a beautiful female counterpart to male vocalist Oliver Sims. Sims has developed as a singer, able to harmonize and manipulate his vocal range, bringing greater emotional depth; his vocals on “Chained”, “Fiction”, and especially “Missing” have a beautiful tonal quality.

“Missing” seems like Sims’ personal lament. My heart went out to his character. I’ve seen my friends left heart-hurt and confused, as it seemed like their loving, wonderful relationship spontaneously imploded.

“My heart is beating in a different way, been gone such a long time, still feel the same. Will you miss me, when there’s nothing to see?” Sims asks. Croft’s vocals fill the background track, then emerge in an almost spiritual way. “Do you still believe?” she asks, as Sims’ voice echoes in the back ground, “In you and me? Are we all we could be? Is it meant to be?”

The entire album plays like a chronicle of a metamorphosing young relationship.

“Reunion,” the track that precedes ”Missing”, is reminiscent of a night out when you see your estranged lover across the room, or are potentially considering a one-night stand with a beloved friend, and feelings make you wonder, “Did I see you see me in a new light?”

The instrumentals on “Reunion” are undoubtedly one of my favorites on Coexist. And its vocals blend beautifully with the tasteful steel drum rhythms, which segway into a subtle yet effective dance beat, reminiscent of the interplay on xx.

“Reunion” is swiftly followed by “Sunset”, a quiet mid-tempo lament on the loss of affection and closeness (could we call this the morning after song? When no one knows exactly where the lines are now?) “What have you done with the one I love? When I look into your eyes I see no surprise…I always thought it was sad that we act like strangers, after all that we had, we act like we had never met,” intones Croft. “We make believe, I’ve never seen your face beneath moon…you were more than just friend,” Sims sings quietly. “I always felt like you knew me, now it’s like you see through me.” Stylistically, “Sunset” reminds me of xx, a good song for driving-on-the-highway-in-the-dark.

In a way, the orchestration of the album reminds me of the way the film 500 Days of Summer was produced; the relationship described within Coexist is not shared in a linear fashion.

Arguably, “Angels,” the first promoted single and first track on the album, could be seen as one of the first moments Croft reflects on her infatuation, or her love, for her counterpart.

But it’s hard to structure or define this relationship that resonates throughout the album — could the tracks all be about one relationship, perhaps evolving from friendship and eventually ending in heartbreak? Or is each song a different love, a different relationship, a different story? Ultimately Coexist will make you reflect on those relationships that have left an indelible mark on your heart, and that, fantastic production aside, is what makes this compilation a beautiful and effective album.