The xx – I See You Review 

The London Dream Pop trio have almost taken a cult status amongst the hipster media that elevates them beyond scrutiny. There have earned this reputation in part by being so damn talented and producing a different and intriguing first album. Their second effort, Coexist did not reach that level, but was a strong album nonetheless. It doesn’t mean they’re infallible though. Despite hardly being the archetypal difficult second album, it was certainly not of the standard set with their debut two years earlier. It’ll be interesting to see where I See You falls after four and a half years of solo projects and stylistic changes; to see if they are capable of reinvention and versatility (the mark of great talents) or if they’re ready to cash in on the comfortable surroundings of their fan base.

Their first single from this album is ‘On Hold’ and signals a fairly significant shift in the tone of their sound. Echoed and drawn out riffs with wispy synth chords remain, but these are met with a rolling bass, a pacey, yet understated percussion and bolder vocals from Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim. Jamie XX’s production has developed with his solo album last year and he now seeks to put a greater focus on melody and harmony. This track sounds bolder and more dynamic than they’ve ever been. ‘Say Something Loving’ carries on these trends further. It opens with the stutter of a remixed track which leads into a cunningly arranged song which sets up a sweeping, swooning sound for it to collapse into a space of minimalism with staggered riffs, the echo of a clunky percussion and Oliver’s and Romy’s vocals. The track goes on to join both parts with more clever transitions and a production that accommodates this with whirring, electronic soundscapes. When you throw in the balance of the vocal duet, the smart shifts in sound and the subtle production from Jamie xx that provides a big return, you have the makings of a modern Pop ballad.

‘I Dare You’ most resembles their earliest work in terms of their method. The lingering, misty riffs, the gentle, electronic beats and whirring sounds behind them. The fundamental difference is in volume and clarity. This song is crisp and clear which accentuates the rhythms and hooks that would have otherwise been obscured. The influence of Jamie xx is clear on ‘Brave For You’ as he energises the song to a subtle peak with drawn out, resonant synths from the minimal verses. This back and forth is halted as the song goes on to expand the space around it and creates well developed soundscapes. The album opens with ‘Dangerous’ is the group embracing new horizons as they skilfully deliver a dance track with style and finesse. In this setting, the bass lines, vocals and percussion simply roll off the dance fills and beats. ‘A Violent Noise’ retains their subtle and understated core arrangement, but charges it with an electric energy which makes the riffs ring out and the electronica around them oscillate. The album at worst is restrained, yet mysterious and these are still more fluid than they’ve been before as the group has matured. ‘Performance’ for example is typical of this with Romy’s vocals sounding better and as graceful than ever before. Beyond this, they’ve took on an energised, dynamic and vibrant set of sounds and have added a slick and stylish finish to it whilst remaining efficient and gentle in their sound. Their lyrics reflect this too, with the greater emotion within them adding another dimension to what is their most multi-dimensional album yet. A mark of a great band. 

The xx – I See You = 8.5/10

Owen Riddle

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