Tale of XXtasy and Heartbreak

By Youlendree Appasamy



Oliver Sim of The xx. (Photograph taken by Tom Øverlie)

Desolate, yet beautiful landscapes – this is what comes to mind when listening to The xx’s second and latest album Coexist.

In fact, The xx have been praised for their use of space and emptiness in their music, most notably by Pitchfork – and as a result every tightly stretched chord is weighted with intense emotion. The xx doesn’t fit into any definitive musical genre but for those pedantic enough to want one I’ll use Uncut’s definition, which is: an indie-pop, soul, post-dubstep mash-up. Genre hopping is what makes the band incomparable as it manages to stand out from the overwrought indie-pop and dubstep genres by utilising both simultaneously (and adding some house influences for the hell of it).

The sound is an infusion of raw punk which can be heard in the stripped down guitar patterns reminiscent of The Cure; and smooth, down tempo 1980s R’n B heard in the twanging, repetitive basslines. However, the haunting vocals of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim are somewhat modern, drawing on the likes of The Kills lead vocalist, Alison Mosshart, and Sade. Production maestro, Jamie xx, who has worked on tracks for Adele, Drake and Radiohead, is the third member of the group and responsible for the heavy dub beats.  

Listening to the album feels like eavesdropping on lover’s careless whispers. Dual vocals have become the band’s trademark, and this lends a stark honesty to the lyrics, which often deal with friendship and twisted love. Irrespective of the intense personal input by lifelong friends Madley-Croft and Sim (Facebook relationship status: complicated), the two insist the album is deliberately ambiguous lyrically, so as to remain relatable. However, whenever I listen to the album, I find myself rooting for the star-crossed lovers.

Two tracks that will win you over to the dark side are ‘Missing’ and ‘Reconsider’. Listening to ‘Missing’ is like being taken to the brink of a cliff only to have The XX rip out the land beneath your feet – you free fall in the smooth bassline and eerie, tender vocals. In ‘Reconsider’, the album’s bonus track only available from iTunes, the uncertainty and urgency of the Croft/Sim relationship which permeates the album builds to a crescendo. The lyrics are achingly delivered by Croft, as she sings “You touching me like you have no / desire for closure” – heartbreak, elation and yearning, are brilliantly encapsulated in this track.

Coexist is promising and emotionally evocative but mildly static and constrained at the same time. Although it pains me to admit it (because I adore The xx), the new album can veer into dull territory as the tracks roll on and on and on. The simmering guitars and “shh” /whispered vocals are done to perfection, but too frequently. Don’t let that put you off though, Coexist remains a thing of beauty.

Listening pre-requisites for Coexist: earphones, a cup of tea and memories of uneasy love.


Photograph taken by Jasmine Tieu

Chained – the first video off Coexist, directed by Young Replicant in conjunction with The Creator?s Project.



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