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The XX marks spot in indie music

The xx emerged in 2009 with a captivating and clearly defined aesthetic. The band’s hushed, minimal love songs won accolades, including Britain’s Mercury Prize. After the group established such a recognizable sound in its debut album, xx, fans wondered about the direction in which the band would take its sophomore effort, Coexist.

Fans of the 2009 album will be relieved that the band does not stray too far from the sonic template that made it famous. The whispered vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim remain, layered over softly reverberating guitars and Jamie Smith’s clean and often unpredictable production.

The band, however, has evolved since its debut. Smith’s solo forays into the worlds of dance and experimental music as “Jamie xx” seem to have informed some of the more dance-oriented tracks such as “Reunion.”

The themes of Coexist do not stray too far from what fans have come to expect. Most of the songs sound like whispered pleas in the middle of the night documenting failed or failing relationships. The lyrics occasionally veer close to coming across as trite or clichéd. There are few bands that could deliver lines like “I can see it in your eyes, some things that lost their meaning” with the sincerity and emotion of Croft and Sim and not make it sound corny.

The xx are renowned for a stripped-down, muted sound. After the success of its debut the band opened its own studio, but even with all the benefits of mainstream success the group has resisted the temptation to inflate and fill out its sound. Instead it has pared back even further to remove all non-essential elements from its music. Rather than scrambling to fill the gaps left by the departure of guitarist and keyboardist Baria Qureshi in late 2009, The xx allow the emptiness to linger and lengthen, expertly using space and silence to convey meaning and evoke emotion.

The xx are an indie band influenced more by the crisp, nocturnal sounds of the late Aaliyah than any rock heritage. Even Smith’s choice to use a drum machine rather than a traditional set reflects the hip-hop sensibility the band brings to its music. Drake recently used Smith’s remix of a Gil Scott-Heron song as the beat for his hit single “Take Care.” The xx’s work has influenced modern R&B as well, notably the narcotized crooning of The Weeknd.

Much like their songs, The xx evolves slowly. The band has subtly added and removed elements, growing methodically instead of overhauling its approach. Coexist’s album cover seems to reflect this incremental evolution. The band’s cover from the first album is reproduced, this time with iridescent color creeping across the face of its logo. Coexist is an admirable fleshing out of the aesthetic established in the group’s previous effort. Whereas some fans may have hoped for a more dramatic departure, it is hard to begrudge The xx’s return to familiar material considering the excellence with which it is executed.

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