Album Review: The xx - I See You
By Diana Powers, Contributor
[Young Turks; 2017]
Key Tracks: “Replica,” “Lips”
Back in 2009, English trio The xx, consisting of Jamie xx, Romy Croft and Oliver Sim released a self-titled debut that became one of the most talked about indie releases of the decade. Their minimal, sultry, brooding sound was fresh and original, making xx a truly great album, which, although unassuming, remains one of the most influential indie releases in recent years. 2012’s Coexist was basically a less successful continuation of their debut, which didn’t build anything new, and was a huge letdown for many fans and critics alike. Fortunately, I See You succeeds in creating a new, more layered sound while preserving the trio’s overall ambiance.
Jamie xx’s critically acclaimed 2015 solo record In Colour showcased his talents as a producer, and it’s clear that I See You is heavily influenced by his style. The use of samples and a more developed production showcase Jamie xx’s talents as a producer. Coexist failed to utilize his production skills, which I See You puts on full display.
The opening track, “Dangerous,” begins with horns, which is very out of character given the dark sound The xx has become known for. The beat is danceable and fast paced, which couldn’t be said about any of The xx’s prior releases. Dance beats are a theme throughout I See You, a change that surprisingly works well given their history of brooding, atmospheric sounds. “Performance” is most reminiscent of The xx’s past two records. Compared to other tracks, “Performance” uses simpler instrumentation and an overall darker feel. Although “Performance” mostly sounds like a replica of anything off the trio’s past two albums, it satisfies fans that may have been expecting just that.
I See You's standout track, “Replica,” is a perfect example of how The xx’s music has improved. Lyrically, “Replica” strays from the band’s typical lyrical themes of love and heartbreak, instead discussing an inability to change as a person, which is a fresh topic for the band. The dreamy instrumentals have a nostalgic quality, yet simultaneously show The xx’s evolution and progression. Overall, “Replica” represents the past, present, and future of The xx.
While I See You is definitely The xx’s revival, “On Hold” as a track is the album’s low point. Although it isn’t necessarily a bad song, it’s a little too out of character. The obnoxiously catchy hook and clapping beat seems a bit forced. I See You wouldn’t have suffered without the inclusion of “On Hold.”
Based on Coexist, it would have been very easy for I See You to be another replica of their debut. At the same time, it would have been easy to stray too far from their established sound. I See You could have easily turned into an unnatural stretch from a band that relied on simple production and stripped instrumentation. Thankfully, I See You is an unexpected yet welcome improvement from the stagnant direction Coexist set for the trio.