Early Listen: The XX   Coexist (Track For Track)

The British band The XX who made a boom with their debut album xx in 2009 are about to release a much awaited sophomore album on September 10th. There’s a recurrent duality when it comes to analyzing this upcoming album, as it’s the second, of a band whose elusive yet symbol-like name is moreover a perfectly symmetrical pair of x, featuring a pair of voices for lead vocals, and named coexist. Hence an anticipated listening of the album structured around the idea of

11 ways of coexisting.

1. “Angels” encourages Devotion

This track is nearly a capella, acting as a harbinger of the album’s minimalistic instrumental arrangements. Romy Madley Croft’s angelic yet sensual voice takes center stage in an unassuming tone which contrasts with the potency of the lyrics, professing true love, “devotion” per say, making for a web of images spun by the music, its title and its lyrics.

2. “Chained” brings forth The Dance

This second track at first features Oliver Sim’s voice backed by a low base line and muffled beat but then lets in Romy Madley Croft’s voice creating a boy girl vocal waltz. Precisely the song orchestrates a slo motion tango of sorts, as the two dancers come together, intertwine, then spin away from one another before reuniting in dips and twirls. This act ends abruptly as both voices sound out in unison before silence falls upon the dancefloor – rendering the name of the track more appropriate than it seemed as its singers are like links in a chain; both distinct yet eternal binded.

 3. “Fiction” fosters Desire

Fast paced notes ring out as another rock n roll guitar scratches out sensual notes before the rhythm picks up even more making for a catchy track. Oliver Sim sings darkly about “Fiction when we’re not together, mistaken by a vision, something of my own creation” bringing to mind specifically the paradoxical idea of desire – a feeling that can only exist as long as the desired object is not in the possession of he who desires. Hence the near racing potency of the song, running after something it never quite attains and thus dies away, unsuccessful but still full of desire.

 4. “Try” represents the Male and the Female

The song breaks out with an unnerving high pitched series of notes that sounds out like a psychedelic car siren – however when the vocals start, the band’s trademark echoing watery notes can be heard in a peaceful melody, which creates a contrast. The two disquieting and reassuring elements merge as Madley Croft’s voice makes its entrance; and the track thus can be seen as the epitome of the conceptual couple of male-female . The potent siren a symbol of the phallic desire of power contrasts with the motherly softness of the watery melody or vice versa, the siren an entrancing seductive song answered by the steadfastness of rationality.

 5. “Reunion” is a Flirt

The watery xylophone which opens this track makes for an enchanting musical ambiance which reaches its climax as both lead vocals merge during the chorus chanting “reunion” and the xylophone grows ever more potent. In the verses, both voices answer one another as if undertaking an amorous parade. The attraction grows stronger as the beat breaks out with base notes with a faint, drier beat in the background – making for a more minimal music track.

 6. “Sunset” symbolizes the Separation

This song opens with a catchy low muffled beat and a faint metallic rhythmic element making way for Madely Croft’s voice soon joined by Oliver Sim’s. Although the track picks up gradually, it is essentially bittersweet and the interpretation of coexistence as separation is quite clearly accounted for by the lyrics : ” I always thought it was sad / The way we act like strangers / After all that we had / We act like we had never met”.

 7. “Missing” conveys Disillusion 

A disquieting sound resembling a heart beat breaks out at the onset of this song just before Sim sings of his own heart beating in a different way. Added to sonar-like sound effects and Madley Croft’s voice echoing out in the background there something abysmal about this song.

8. « Tides » is Impossible Love

The track starts out a capella with both lead singers chanting out bittersweet lyrics before a disquieting rasping mettalic sound echoes in the background. However for a song about resigned love, its surprisingly upbeat thanks to a catchy beat.

9. “Unfold” promotes Silent Tolerance

Starting out with the band’s hallmark echoing guitar notes, this song fails to distinguish itself from the previous ones. It’s a melting pot of all the rhythmic and melodic elements heard earlier and thus is unsuccessful in making its own statement, silently tolerating the rest of the album before fading away, nearly invisible.

10. “Swept Away” encourages Conquest

This track is one of the most potent of the album although it starts out softly, featuring both leac vocalists nearly a capella. However the base picks up introducing a clear cut beat and an accumulation of rhythmic elements that bring to mind Jamie XX producer touch. The song grows and grows as a muffled drum makes its entrance, added to a guitar and war-like drums morphing into a truly conquering track.

11. “Our Song” represents Union

The title of the song pretty much says it all, as do the lyrics softly sung in unison: “All I have, I will give to you / And at times when no one wants to / I will give you me / And we’ll be / Us”. However, as poetical as these words might sound, the track is of the least striking, being nearly completely a capella, and presenting no progression building up the song which would have given it a chance to break through.