When Jamie Smith said late last year that the new xx album would be heavily influenced by club music, I'm not sure anyone anticipated the sound of Coexist. While club music calls to mind propulsive dance beats and crushing layers of synths, those are nowhere to be found on Coexist. The album's first impression is just as spare and haunting as 2009's xx was.
But by the second or third listen, Coexist does reveal itself to be The xx's version of a dance album. "Reunion" feeds ambient steel drums through reverb until suddenly, a low, throttling dance beat kicks in. "Missing" begins with a sci-fi pulse, employs full stops of dead silence and builds to a Portishead-esque crescendo. The frazzled beats underlying "Fiction," one of the album's darkest and best songs, would sound at home on any early '90s British house album. "Sunset" might come closest to being an actual club banger, and is the first time the band has framed singer Romy Madley Croft as a straight-up dance diva.
The album isn't entirely cohesive. I'm not excited by the album's lead single, "Angels," which hasn't grown any more interesting since it debuted earlier this summer. Tracks like "Our Song," while sounding gorgeous, feel a bit short on ideas. But then there's the exquisite "Try," a song built almost entirely around one spectral loop.
Coexist is a record that requires patience and time to work its magic, but is utterly, enthrallingly, worth the effort.