Throughout their short career, the XX have repeatedly emphasized minimalism as the most crucial value of their work. The somber post-punks' logo is a white, stylized X on a black background, they downsized from four players to three in 2009 and haven't replenished personnel, they exclusively wear black onstage and song titles rarely consist of more than a word or two. Even their name's typesetting evidences a preference for the brief and essential. "Oh, don't notice us," they purr, but a project this alluring and unexpectedly satisfying steals the attention easily.
The XX's sonics are where that minimalism shines brightest. Every iota of music on Coexist, the London group's follow-up to their self-titled '09 debut, is treated with the grace one would afford to polishing fine, rare, unspeakably fragile glass. Guitar, bass and sampler are all leaner than lean, but even then, melodies emerge with extraordinary ease. Gaps of silence are used as transcendentally clear reflecting pools. Their work is slim, not skeletal.
What gives the group a sense of humanity – a detail more important to the band than the music itself – is the interplay between male-female vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. As they did before, the real-life friends play lovers on record, speaking in breathy tones about romance, betrayal and other details of emotional drama. Lyrical images are a strange mix of vague and raw, but the constantly simmering sexual tension is what pushes everything into brilliant territory. The XX's confidence with what few ingredients they do have is a genuine lesson in artistry.
After dishing these compliments, it's worth noting that everything above could have applied three years ago. Coexist is dotted with fresh flourishes – the dance beat of "Swept Away," the light steel drums on "Reunion" – but it largely feels like a companion piece to the original rather than a sequel. It's a nod to the band's skill that the formula marvels again, but ideally, the third album will take a new turn or four.