Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft have always exuded a strange friendship and sexual chemistry. It’s twisted, almost incestuous. Most modern duets feel so forced, so fakely sexual, so disingenuous (case in point: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw). In their interviews and music videos the two singers of The xx behave like siblings, without tension or self-awareness, and yet they somehow make us believe that they’re in love.
Whereas The xx wasn’t self-conscious to begin with, their sophomore effort Coexist is completely free of any trace of ego. There are few songs that stand alone as singles, but it seems as though the group doesn’t care about their public reception. That’s all too rare in today’s “alternative” music scene. Though many newly famous groups become more wrapped up in their audience and critics, The xx feel even more comfortable.
These songs double-down on the minimalist and dreamlike approach of their debut. None of the eleven songs is out of place, none greatly outshines the others, yet each feels like a different angle. My personal favorite song of the album, “Sunset,” explores the transition from lovers to strangers: “We make believe I’ve never seen your face, you neither mine/ and catch my eye, don’t register a smile.”
“Chained” is another gem of the album, and it takes a different approach to love. With lyrics such as “Winged or chained, I ask you, would you have stayed?/ Did I hold you too tight?” the track explores the uncertainty in fading relationships. “Chained” is more mellow and slow than their older songs, and it highlights how the lyrics have taken a back seat to the instrumentals. This is also evident in “Tides,” where the emphasis is on the rhythm and melody while the lyrics are repetitive and simple: “Devote to me/ alone with me/ say with me, ‘Why would you ever want to leave?’” While the group has sacrificed the catchiness of hit songs “Crystalised” and “Infinity,” the focus on bass and drums allows for a more cohesive, mature album.
Listening, there is the sense that one has woken up for the first time after ending a long relationship. This is not a feeling that most pop groups can evoke. Ultimately, as with their debut, Coexist stands out because of the nuanced relationship between the two vocalists. With more complex songwriting and less narrative lyrics, their chemistry hasn’t suffered.