The xx are back in 2012 with a new album, Coexist. It is the first new offering from the minimalist indie pop stars from the UK in three years and it is an effort somehow superior to the debut, despite having shrunk from four band members to three.
Guitarist Baria Qureshi, who had been with the band since 2005, has either been ousted or has left on her own. Either way members of the xx have described the departure as a divorce. It is a divorce that has removed the bulk of the instrumentation from the group. Yet, lead singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim made no attempt to replace her on the album. Instead, they refined the sound, giving producer and remix artist Jamie Smith a more prominent role. He plays the keys and mixes. He favors a slow, smoldering orchestration in which each note played bleeds into the next, whether it be a sound elicited from a keyboard or Sim’s bass.
This paper thin sound is not in danger of being wasted in the live efforts. The 2013 Tour will take the group through Europe and the United States, with venues small and medium on the horizon. The xx will rely on the genius of the style they have crafted to satiate the audience’s thirst. In intimate venues the sound plays like contemporary jazz. In larger venues these notes seem to continually expand in the open space, reverberating and creating an atmosphere that has the audience on edge waiting for the next big musical movement, which happens to be those rare moments the lead singers harmonize instead of a big guitar riff.
Though this will be effective for the songs taken from the new album, inevitably the xx will have to play “VCR” or “Islands”. Then the group will need a guitarist. Jamie Smith may be able to create the same sort of distortion with this equipment, but when people hear a guitar they want to see a guitarist. Obviously, at least this time around, the xx will be expanding its lineup to include a touring guitarist. If that guitarist is lucky, he will be a part of the next album, which hopefully is not three years away.