At times, the music of The xx is a little uncomfortable. All of the lyrics are whispered or sung very lightly, often alternating between male and female voices, and all of the songs are about loss, heartbreak, and failed relationships. The music behind the vocals is sparse, with beats and guitars and bass and synths stretched out, recorded in a way that implies wide open space, notes lingering and echoing under those aching voices. This sparseness implies loneliness, and coupled with the lyrical subject matter the overall effect is a sense of desolation and despair.
I understand that some people might not like this, might be turned off by the darkness at the heart of Coexist. On the other hand, i find what the band is doing to be very interesting. This music is sparse, but all of that echoing sparseness allows the beauty of each individual element of the songs to shine through. In a sense, that is what happened on the early work of Low -- the music was slowed down and spread out in such a way that the beauty of each piece of it was magnified. In that respect The xx are Low re-imagined as a version of Billy Bragg (who sang about either Marxism or heartbreak) minus the Marxism and playing in a post-dubstep world.
That notion will either appeal to you or not. I find it fascinating, and this record has been on near constant rotation at The PostLibyan Cave since i picked it up a few months ago. Sure, the vocals are aching and the lyrics uncomfortable, but The xx have wrapped all of that up in a tasty shell of minimalist yet catchy, dancey tunes. The beats they use here are just incredible, that clattering whacking dubstep sound and done at a tempo that just makes me want to tap my feet and shuffle around.
I think the real standout track here is Swept Away which starts like an old Joe Jackson tune with a whiff of melancholy and some tinkling piano as two voices entwine wistfully. But then a bass rumbles a short solo and the tune becomes a dancefloor monster with an unstoppable beat of handclaps and scattered percussion over rumbling bass. Damn, just ... damn. This never fails to get me bopping along happily, dancing across the hardwoods at my condo or bouncing in my cubicle at the office. It just barrels along for a while, then fades out slowly, ending with that faint Joe Jackson piano tinkle...
Sunset is another amazing dance tune, all dubsteppy percussion tapping as the male and female voice sing a duet of doubt and regret about the end of their relationship. The guitar is a faint western sliding in the background. The song is tragically sad through the sparseness of the sound, all with a great head-bopping beat. There is a lovely bass solo in the middle, right before the bridge, in which guitars swell as the beat kicks.
But not everything they do is dubsteppy dance music. Unfold is so sparse that it is barely a song, the two voices echoed while a faint beat thumps and guitars pick a faint melody buried under a shoegazer-esque weight of tremolo and echo.
I could go on to talk about what i like in each of the eleven songs here, but i won't. I think you get the point. The xx are making some lovely music while doing some interesting things with sonic textures. The songs aren't the happiest things you will listen to, but the overall effect is lovely.
There is a deep beauty in the sadness that The xx revel in, and that is pretty interesting.