Fans of the U.K based trio, The XX, typically fall into one of two categories; those who fell in love with the intimate vibe of their debut album, and those who were entranced by the glitchy production of Jamie XX. While there is a mutual respect between both camps, each group had different hopes for the band’s highly anticipated third release. The resulting record bridged the gap between these two groups, pairing tension and raw emotion with rhythmic breaks and catchy samples. I See You is The XX’s strongest attempt at fusing the distinct styles of each band member into a cohesive sound.
The album’s opening song, “Dangerous”, serves as a high-energy introduction to their new sound. A blaring brass section starts off the track before quickly transitioning into a house-inspired drum beat with a lively bass-line. This unprecedented sound seems unfitting for the ethereal vocals of Romy and Oliver, but they actually compliment each other quite well.
As the intro track demonstrates, Jamie’s catchy production has taken a leading role in their new sound. This may be, in part, due to the success of In Colour, but more than likely this was a natural progression for the band. They’ve added in various elements of Jamie’s solo work in a way that is far from overbearing. Incorporating rhythmic breaks and familiar vocal samples, from artists like Hall and Oates, adds life to their typically somber music. The record’s two singles, “On Hold” and “Say Something Loving,” are groovy and fun; two words that are practically antonyms for their previous releases.
While many of the album’s highlights are the more lively tracks, the band has also continued to refine the intimate sound that built their fan base. Since their debut self titled album, the trio has masterfully arranged lush and airy soundscapes to create tension. As always, their characteristically minimalist guitar parts and brilliant use of silence adds to the emotional experience. Throughout this record they incorporate new elements to add to the drama. Songs like “Test Me” and “A Violent Noise” are accompanied by climatic string arrangements and deep bass tones.
During many of these softer tracks, Romy and Oliver continue to sing together in a comfortable and almost conversational way. However, at times their delivery feels bland and over-rehearsed. Additionally, the lyrical content has lost a bit of its depth, especially on tracks like “Brave for You” and “Performance.” That being said, I See You is still an outstanding effort to refine their sound while adding in elements that are both lively and unique. This release was certainly a step in the right direction towards unifying their fan base and creating music with more mass-appeal.
Catch the XX on their international tour.