London trio The xx may be renowned for their unassuming low-key manner, but since winning the Mercury Music Prize with their debut album back in 2010, they have attracted the attention of some rather glamorous names, from Rihanna (who sampled “Intro” on “Drunk On Love”), to Shakira (who covered “Islands” on Sale el Sol) to Drake (who invited beatmaker Jamie Smith to produce the title track on Take Care).
However, judging by their much-anticipated follow-up, the group haven’t let the unlikely admiration from such superstars go to their heads. Indeed, arguably even more spacious, delicate and minimalistic than xx, Coexist is more notable for what it doesn’t do than what it does.
Opening track and lead single “Angels,” an alternative lullaby whose ghostly melodies and echo-laden riffs are interspersed with sparse bursts of percussion, signals the intent of The xx from the start, while the almighty pause which stops dead the angsty post-R&B of “Missing” proves they are still unafraid to play around with silence.
If this all sounds a little bit familiar, then it’s true that the majority of Coexist isn’t exactly a radical departure. Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft’s beautifully intertwined vocal tones are still as fragile, whispered and subdued as ever, while Smith’s comedown production still relies on a similar blend of shimmering Chris Isaak-esque guitar hooks and muted programmed beats, as evident on the ambient two-step of “Chained,” the haunting nocturnal closer “Our Song” and the tropical-tinged “Tides.”
But there are occasions when Smith’s claims that the record has been inspired by the burgeoning EDM scene don’t sound too far-fetched. “Reunion” is an unexpected fusion of steel drums and slow-motion house rhythms, “Swept Away” recalls the sophisticated electronica of Everything But The Girl’s mid-90s dance reinvention, whilst the dub-heavy “Sunset” is probably the closest thing the band will ever get to a straight-forward floor-filler.
Overall, The xx have stuck to what they know best. Coexist may lack the element of surprise that helped steer its predecessor to multi-platinum status, but it’s a beautifully-crafted record which should preserve their status as the edgiest dinner party favourite.