Album Review: The xx, “I See You”

The xx have always been known for their minimalist approach. Their stripped back, evocative and beautiful music has always overflowed with emotion, each sonic nook and cranny armed with the capacity to weaken the listener’s knees with a single chord or melodic line.

In 2009, their self-titled debut album changed the way we viewed pop music when they sprang onto the scene with their distinctive sound. The group, composed of Jamie xx, Romy Madley Croft, and Oliver Sim, gained international recognition, going on to win the coveted Mercury Prize among other accolades. Three years later, in 2012, the xx released Coexist, which, while it didn’t garner the same amount of praise as its predecessor, saw the group expand on the intimacy and charm of their sound. Ultimately they became one of the most sought-after groups for festivals around the world, as well as being hugely influential for countless artists who either emulated, or were influenced by their sound and production style.

After a lengthy break, most notably due to Jamie xx forging an incredibly successful career as a solo artist and releasing his mesmerising album In Colour, the trio now return with their third album, I See You. When discussing their upcoming project back in 2015, the band said that the release “Would have a completely different concept” to the previous two, and indeed they honoured their statement.

For fans of the classic xx sound, I See You might take a little getting used to. For those who haven’t listened to the xx, but whose friends have regaled them with tales of their tear-jerking textures and poignant feels, this might not be the best place to start. The trio’s chemistry is still strong and the album has an unmistakably xx sound, but it admittedly lacks the immediate impact of, say, what happened the first time you hear Islands. That said, that an album requires repeated listens to fully set in is not a criticism; it’s simply different.

The opening track Dangerous announces this new sound with trumpet flares before revealing a bright, danceable beat. It’s amazing what a side project can do to a band; while Jamie xx is certainly not the only star of this amazingly talented trio, the album almost feels like it’s been more influenced by In Colour than anything the band have done previously. The dance vibes are noticeable throughout, noticeable so in their first single, On Hold.

In the run up to the album release, the group said that they were looking to step out of the limiting comfort zone of the first two albums in an attempt to reach a broader audience. On Hold exemplifies this perfectly. The track certainly grows on you, and it’ll certainly reach a broader audience, namely that of Jamie’s solo work and the dance music community in general.

A Violent Noise, Performance and Replica seem to hark back to that earlier sound, with a warm familiarity in these haunting, introspective tracks. Replica’s guitar and echoed piano layers are particularly reminiscent of their earlier approach.

There’s a real complexity and sonic density that evokes intrigue and repeated listens throughout; you need to work to break in the new sound, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. It’s far removed from the soft, almost easy listening emotiveness of their first two albums, and frankly that’s a good thing. I See You may not be what older fans will expect, but it nevertheless has a lot to offer; from the gorgeous lyricism to the bright beats, there’s a lot to absorb, and a lot to enjoy, even if the notion of “reaching a broader audience” is a little terrifying at first.

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