When working on a sophomore follow-up to a successful debut, most bands react to the extra dough and time-as-luxury bounty given to them by trying to cram as much as they can into the confines of their new grooves. So give the young men and woman of the xx credit for going as far in the other direction as possible. If you thought that 2009's xx was minimalist in its spare, new-wave, straight-line propulsion, wait until you hear what you don't hear on Coexist.
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Drummer/producer Jamie Smith had dropped hints that the band's new album would bear the sonic fruits of the only-recently-not-teenagers' immersion in the world of dance clubs, but a deep bath in the shimmering airiness of Coexist suggests that these three shy young people might not have been going to the most banging dance nights. Tracks like lead single "Angels" and the Steve-Reich-remixes-Kings-of-Leon-sounding "Reunion" contain a gossamer thread of a beat at their core, but frequently the lone wail of the trade-off vocals by Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft leave the party and walk slowly into the cold embrace of the night air. It's bold and beguiling, the definition of a more mature direction, as the trio ditch the teen melodrama of xx in favor of richer sonics and a reserved optimism.
"It's a record full of love songs; there are dark moments, but also lighter-than-ever-before times," says Sim. "People talk about the space and minimalism of the first record, which was initially simply down to our inexperience as musicians — this time we had to more consciously exercise that restraint. On this record, we'd listen back to what we'd done, try to figure out how to improve on it, and nine times out of 10, we'd just take out a part and be happy with the result."
Coexist discards the cluttered sounds of modern life until all that is left is the essential components of song: a twang of guitar; a beat oozing in and out of the mix and building to a crescendo; the throb of Sim's bass; and the twin voices, flitting about in the songs' headspace like dancing doves dive-bombing gently past each other. In a time of Eurobeat overload, when every song we hear is a manufactured adrenaline rush guaranteed to make our hearts race at a false sense of promise and hope, hearing the xx sing their songs of insistent-but-subtle euphoria is like stepping outside of the cinema after an action movie and re-adjusting to real life.
"If a feeling appears/If your mind should sway/It's not a secret you should keep," Sim soulfully coos in album highlight "Chained." Ostensibly a lyrical meditation on the grip of romance, it could also be about the allure of the creative spark, of open sonic spaces and heartfelt patterns of musical jubilation. "There are definitely moments of devastation on this record, but also a lot of light, and hope," Sim adds.
THE XX + CHAIRLIFT :: House of Blues :: October 25 :: 8 pm :: $30–$45 :: houseofblues.com