If I close my eyes hard enough, maybe adding some pressure with my thumb and forefinger, I see glints of technicolor atop infinite darkness. I’m transported back to fourth grade, a field trip to the planetarium. Library-quietness hangs in the air inside the auditorium. The seats are plush and recline and swallow up the children. The aisle lights fade and the show begins. Infinite darkness. And then, glints or whites and yellows, oranges and violets projected overhead. Suddenly, we’re floating in space toward the stars. There is a girl there–Amanda. We’re the only two in the universe, drifting off into space, two celestial bodies.
That’s the feeling I get from Coexist, the sophomore album from The xx. The tracks sound as though they were recorded in a shuttle hovering in the atmosphere, audio reverberating in an echo chamber. It feels contained and yet eternally, cosmically expansive. “Reunion” plays especially spacy thanks to steady club beats and highlighted by twinkles from a steel drum. And on “Try,” one of the trippier songs of the bunch, if you close your eyes tight enough, you can picture each star in that ebony sky playing a different, peaceful note, flickering in and out with the melody.
The xx are a confident group, self-assured and stripped of overproduction and musical superfluousness. They feature the kind of simplicity of rhythm that made The White Stripes so appealing. Their self-titled debut was a brief if wonderful introduction to a band who took their favorite, essential parts of post-punk and R&B and made their presence known. On Coexist, they flesh out the vocal dynamic and set the scene better still. The lyrics again are uncomplicated, with even more repetition of lines here, all in the service of creating a mood. Rather than tell a story, they set the vibe and we imbue the album with our own narrative.
If there had to be a theme, Coexist would be about exactly that. There are hints of coupling, love, the peaks and valleys of romance. The interplay of the vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim have more sensuality than on their first album. Finally, they’ve taken advantage of the pure sound of their male and female leads, playing off of one another, complementing. On “Missing,” the segmented, reflected progression keeps the listener on his or her heels and the two provide vocal thrusters, switching off with heart-melting “ah-ee-ah”s while the other croons. Star-crossed lovers in the most literal sense.
And it worked for me: When the ten-year-old boy is carried along breezy cosmic ebbs and flows, the only sound I’d hear would be the thump of my heart echoing inside of me–and I’d imagine Amanda’s heart thumping in rhythm.
But when love is lost, the harshness of space is revealed. “Chained,” the album’s second track, shows what happens when objects in the sky become violent.
I watched you breathe in
And I wished you’d stop
Did I hold you too tight?
Did I not let enough light in?
We used to be closer than this.
Two objects orbit one another. They break away when the gravitational pull just isn’t strong enough, and sometimes those objects hurtle at one another and collide. When together, the space around them feels limitless and the future never-ending, but they’re more likely to fizzle out or erupt into a painfully luminous supernova.The xx’s Coexist releases September 11, 2012.