I See You
Young Turks/Remote Control
While people always talk of the ‘difficult sophomore album’ – it’s the third release that can often be the true test of a band – and with I See You, The xx have passed with flying colours.
A lot has happened since The xx burst on the scene as 20-year olds. Their seminal, self-titled 2009 debut was an unexpected hit – its sparse, considered sound used space and silence to great effect – they painted with a minimal palette over a black background. Their second album followed a similar approach, with a more refined sound. I See You sees them spread their wings, boldly taking their sound to new places where no xx has been before – it’s the sound of the band finding the light in the darkness.
Their sound has evolved in-line with their lives – now vastly more experienced, older and wiser. Jamie xx has released a solo record, Oliver Sim is sober after an excessive period and Romy Madley Croft has married her girlfriend. Their international exposure and fanbase has spread – they recently appeared on SNL in the US, and Americans are catching on to their uniquely universal songs of love and devotion.
The band seem acutely aware of the position they’re in and keen to make the most of it – willing to experiment with new colours and textures in their mix, taking things into more pop-based territory. They have taken cues here from their eccentric producer Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx), who has celebrated great success with his adventurous, electronic solo album In Colour. Croft and Sim both featured, and this seems like a logical progression.
Jamie’s contribution may have stepped up a notch, but still at their core is the unique chemistry between Croft and Sim. It is their duelling vocals and guitars, along with solid songwriting, that lifts the band above their contemporaries.
They make their intention clear with opener Dangerous, which starts with a fanfare of trumpets, before a stuttering breakbeat kicks in. The new sound is jolting at first, but seems to feel more natural with repeated listens.
Say Something Loving has a more familiar feel, while A Violent Noise is more intense – Sims’ impassioned vocals contrasting Croft’s wailing guitar.
On Hold is an obvious single that combines the trio’s talents – though you can’t help feeling that Jamie’s Hall & Oates sampling chorus beat should kick in harder – but again, that’s part of the group’s understated charm.
The joyous Replica conjures tropical vibes with its summery synths and twiddly guitar riff, while Brave For You has a real Beach House-meets-Foals kinda vibe with the reverb drenched, delayed guitars and Croft’s sultry vocals.
I Dare You is a soaring tune with a real positive vibe. It’s their most anthemic track yet – this may just be The xx doing stadium rock. And good on ’em. Heaven forbid, they actually sound happy.