Album Review: The xx—“I See You”

By Alex Ryu, Featured photo via DIY Mag

Not even a decade since the release of xx, the trio of Romy Madley Croft, Jamie xx, and Oliver Sim have made their marks on the music industry. Who knew that what was once a quartet band from the prestigious Elliott school (the same school that gave us acts such as Hot Chip, Burial, Four Tet, and actor Pierce Brosnan) that incorporated R&B productions fused with a minimalist production could come this far? Yet here they are, continuing their streak of released music that not only pushes the boundaries of their genre, but on their own abilities to produce them as well. This time they take new formats and levels thanks to the new dominant production from Jamie xx as well as the growing maturity of the band member themselves, resulting in their latest album I See You.

Gone were the low-fi production, emotional vocals and lyrics, and alternative post-punk sounds from the past albums and in with a new alternative dance and new wave sound. First-time listeners will be quick to notice that its production seems positive and expansive, mostly an influential presence of Jamie’s past works. This includes more sampling in their songs, its dancehall influence, and presence of UK garage beats. Gone were the dominating guitar, bass sounds, and often atmospheric electronic surface tension from xx and Coexist; where synthesizers ring through much of the album and any presence of prior instruments are downplayed. The question eventually raises itself: is this album worth everything the xx has come so far? Well, surprisingly, yes. Yes, it is. In fact we can applaud the band for releasing what many would argue to be their bravest, most altered album of their careers.

What makes I See You different to In Colour or any past xx release in that matter, is it enables them to be more open with their release, to express themselves as themselves rather than sticking to the moody yet intricate formula. There’s nothing wrong with changing styles overtime if one see what enables them to stay fresh and on top of their game, let alone being inspired by prior events to make such change, hence the larger part of Jamie xx’s production and the different lyrical content. If anything it utilizes Jamie’s part in the band more than we have ever seen from their past releases, but doesn’t rely on him too much either to avoid saturating the original xx sound. Chalk it Top it up with the ongoing and maturing abilities of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s lyrical content that involves topics of opportunity, introspective thoughts of love, and the use of metaphors (Oliver Sim’s issue with drinking habits is a prominent theme in the album). The combination proves that not everything is limited to black and white and the result is an opportunity, positive and optimistic I See You

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“I See You” Album Cover

Tracks such as “I Dare You” and the lead single “On Hold” deals with extending and holding onto relationships as long as they could, while tracks such as standout tracks “Performance” and “Say Something Loving” involve conquering one’s self as a presentable living being and their insecurities respectively. The tracks continue to meld with their signature “Introspective Love and Struggles” theme only under a vibrant electronic production with lyrics that elevate themselves from reflective to reflecting.

Even if the old fans miss the old sound, they can still find some tracks that are reminiscent to the old days, with songs like “A Violent Noise” that contains a reverberating guitar melody that haunts Sim’s disenchantment of the partying lifestyle and his excessive drinking and the album closer “Test Me” contains the tensions similar from Coexist with Romy’s venting lyrics against her band members for their harsh behaviours and solo outings that occurred prior and during the production of their recent album.
I See You isn’t just an album seeking for change, it’s an album that defines change – it knows the oppositions that it will face and what price must be paid to overcome them. In the end, it takes scratch to find the work they want to represent and most importantly the results that want to achieve – and create something original at the same time.

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