The xx exist in a time and space of their own making. In 2009 the South London trio’s debut album ‘xx’, quietly made at night over the course of two years, bled steadily into the public consciousness to become shorthand for newly refined ideas of teenage desire and anxiety. Articulated with a maturity beyond their years, its hallmarks were restraint and ambiguity.
Much has happened to lead to this point: most pertinently, they’ve grown up. Following the release of ‘xx’, the trio spent the lion’s share of 2010 far from home, taking their gentle shaping of a new London sound to ears and hearts in America, Japan, Australia and mainland Europe. Critical acclaim was matched by commercial success around the world, before The xx won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
Three years on, Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith released ‘Coexist’, an album that featured a new perspective. Where ‘xx’ lent in close to whisper in your ear, ‘Coexist’ gazes warmly in your eyes. While the fingerprints of R&B remain, ‘Coexist’s dawn realisations flicker into life under house music’s gaze, most resonant on ‘Reunion’, ‘Sunset’ and ‘Swept Away’. It also echoes in Romy’s guitar riffs and Oliver’s bass lines, which circle and build like loops. Above all, though, ‘Coexist’ is an album of confident adult reflection. ‘Angels’, sung by Romy, is a perfectly distilled love song. Its counter is ‘Fiction’ led by Oliver, a bittersweet ballad that’s strength lies in naming its fear.
What has changed for The xx? Nothing, and everything. Older and wiser, surer yet still so tender, ‘Coexist’ finds itself on the other side of heartbreak, when the light returns.