DURING A PHONE CALL with Oliver Sim, bassist/vocalist for London pop trio the xx, it's tough to ignore the irony of our sputtering cell phone connection as it relates to the choppy aesthetic of his band's sound. Sim is on the set for the popular English music show Later... with Jools Holland, and we're both struggling to hear one another.
Through the fussy reception, however, Sim's explanations for his band's docile nature are somber, well thought out, and simple. The same can be said for the tunes on the band's new album, Coexist, the follow-up to their critically lauded debut record that was awarded England's coveted Mercury Prize.
"I enjoy the subtleties in music, and I enjoy that the smallest things can have the biggest impact," says Sim.
As heard on the group's debut, xx, their minimalism came tethered with interesting hints of house music, forged delicately by sparse clicks of electric guitar, modest 4/4 beats from the bowels of a digital sampler, and stammering bass lines. The supple vocals of guitarist Romy Madley Croft and Sim similarly seemed to subtract more than add to an overall ambiance. While the sparseness of their debut whispered presence-wise, it roared as an example of the power of subtlety as science.
Coexist, the band's second full-length, has somehow buried itself even deeper into a shoegaze-y soundscape that appears to borrow from the well-quoted jazz ethos of understanding: It's the notes you don't hear that make it great. It could be a convenient crutch for some bands, perhaps, to claim "art" in the face of only passable technical prowess. But for the xx, the void seems to be conjured honorably enough.
"When you listen to the song, you realize that if something really doesn't need to be there, it still functions without it," explains Sim. "We definitely can be guilty of trying to put too much in sometimes. This time around, we had a lot more resources and we could have done a lot more to make a much bigger sound. The sparseness just came with patience."