The xx: ‘I See You’ Review
After a period on hold, and a whole Jamie xx solo album later, The xx’s third studio album comes in the form of ten brand new songs. ‘I See You’ is in keeping with the band’s themes of intimacy, but is somewhat more varied in sound. It uses different instruments and, for the first time, samples.
‘I See You’ has been cited as The xx’s best and most intriguing album to date, though there are fits and starts within the record. Jamie xx’s 2015 solo project, ‘In Colour’, proved to be a successful experimentation of new sounds, way beyond the monochrome, minimal, and sometimes dull ora that originally defined this London-based three-piece. What has seemingly been learnt by Jamie Smith’s solo LP, has been translated to influence The xx’s latest offerings.
For a start, there’s a more textured, synth-led production style. This third record has taken on many new forms; samples have been used, most notably in the album’s lead single ‘On Hold’. The use of Hall & Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go For That’ is the track’s centrepiece. The nostalgic turn in using this sample has made the band’s music, especially this single, more catchy and therefore giving it more commercial appeal. The group’s sound has certainly been tweaked; a round of subtle fine tuning.
One thing that The xx do extremely well is their perfectionism in creating atmospheric tracks. The issue with this, though, is that their sound can sometimes be dangerously close to becoming monotonous. On the track ‘Replica’, for example, the song’s guitar riff is catchy, but its stripped back sound creates a pedestrian vibe.
The opening track, ‘Dangerous’, is one of the album’s strongest. Because of the use of horns and the garage-y beat, you can be forgiven for thinking that this track has come straight from Jamie’s solo outing. For a brief eight seconds, you forget that this is The xx at all and the track finds singers Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft sharing lines and harmonising the vocals.
The trio’s second single ‘Say Something Loving’ is what you would call a pop song – by The xx’s standard anyway – with another use of a sample coming from the Alessi Brothers’ 1978 track ‘Do You Feel It?’. Jamie xx’s signature steel pans are present, as well as Romy’s trademark guitar playing. The track spotlights the female and male vocals from the pair, depicting, to the listener, the loving boy-girl relationship…after all they are lifelong friends.
‘Lips’ is a particularly sensual and hypnotic song, closely followed by ‘A Violent Noise’, a track that tackles Oliver Sim’s recent problems with alcohol. At the middle of the album is the track ‘Performance’, possibly the LP’s weakest link. Madley Croft’s vocals match well with the scathing keyboard/violin to create a dramatic piece, but lyrically it’s lacklustre.
The second half of this album is what really makes ‘I See You’ the trio’s best work. ‘Replica’ uses a stripped back guitar over the tentative lyrics to create a moody yet dreamy pop song. ‘Brave For You’ acts as a homage to Romy Madley Croft’s late parents, the album’s fore-fronted emotional heavyweight. ‘On Hold’, the star single of The xx’s new work, has thrust them into the mainstream public limelight with more BBC Radio 1 play than the group’s most successful single to date, ‘Islands’.
The penultimate track ‘I Dare You’, is a straightforward track, with a simplistic beat. Its easy-going attitude makes it yet another track that is soulful and chilled-out. The album closer comes in the form of a brutally honest piano ballad tastefully named ‘Test Me’. The duet is very abrupt and the lyrics point towards the group’s tenuous relationship over their hiatus.
‘I See You’ is a brave new journey for the London trio. The record clearly comes from the heart and tackles personal issues that have faced each of the group’s members in recent times. The album is the most varied yet and paves a new way for the direction of the band, but the overly ambitious productions on the record actually signify’s that less may actually be more for The xx.
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