I See You Album Review
Released January 13, 2017
Genre: Indie Pop, Indietronica, UK Bass, Alternative Dance
The xx’s second LP Coexist wore out the trio’s minimal dream pop to an almost dreary degree; the years following their debut found a plethora of acts following suit in the group’s style that clouded up the indie scene with dream pop acts left and right. By 2012, Coexist’s presence was another redundant addition in The xx’s oeuvre. Following producer and member Jamie xx‘s stellar In Colour, The xx’s sound was asking for a renovation and sonic push into new territory. With I See You, the trio have moved ever so closer towards a more varied, colorful, and richer tone.
The xx’s dream pop sound is a skeletal and intimate one, but also a rather limiting one. Jamie xx brings his colorful production to the table here, expanding the group’s sound towards colorful passages and engaging directions. The opening track “Dangerous” opens with blaring horns, that are supported by a house drum beat. Vocalist romy Madley-Croft’s voice is less awkwardly romantic here, showing better enunciation and conviction; bassist Oliver Sim’s voice is drearily monotone and, at times, detracts on the record. For example the following track, “Say Something Loving”, has a beautiful duet between the two, separately. The way the different vocal performances work in tandem with the instrumentation, do not mesh well and are constantly clashing at each other amidst the creative production.
On “Lips” Madley-Croft’s vocals mesh well with Sim’s, as the song’s sparse instrumentation is greeted with bold experimentation by way of middle-eastern-like horns (?). It adds a new layer of depth to the intimate sound, and spices up the romantic lyrics in an engaging way. The noisy production on the aptly titled “A Violent Noise” is not as dissonant as one would expect, but is still boisterously chaotic. The main detractor is Sim’s vocals which are stunningly bland and monotone; and it doesn’t help when his vocals cover about 80% of the song’s lyrical content. His way of delivering the vocals in a bland and uninteresting way distract from the obviousl throbbing and emotional core of the album’s songs.
But what they fail to accomplish in singing, they make up for it in really engaging and varied instrumentation. “Performance” is the naked and spare ballad at the centerpiece of it all. Madley-Croft’s vocals are rather devastating, and the string arrangements that close the song feel like a passage ripped from Radiohead’s latest record. The promotional single “On Hold” is The xx at their strongest, in terms of this new direction. The Hall & Oates sample is perfectly placed into a driving dance beat that is equally soothing and energetic.”I Dare You’s” percussion follows this as well, with a cute little riff that just begs to be hummed in the dead of the night. “Test Me” closes the record on a solemn and a glitchy note, adding a bit of malaise and amiguity to the youthful romance so heavily expressed.
I See You is a better improvement than Coexist, and a step forward in the right direction. Jamie xx’s penchant for a soul sample is evident here, but these sample based tracks make up only half of the record. The second half, however, sound like refined versions of classic xx tunes. Sometimes with better vocals; sometimes with better instrumentation; and sometimes with a more engaging emotional arc. While it isn’t a consistent or refined record, it shows that The xx have the strength to make something new while still echoing back to their roots.
FAV TRACKS: Dangerous, Lips, Performance, On Hold, Replica
LEAST FAV TRACK: A Violent Noise