On their first two albums, The xx crafted a trademark sound – dreamy and atmospheric. Press play on their latest album, I See You, and horns announce the presence of The xx, signalling immediately that this will be a different experience than their preceding work.
After their sophomore album, Coexist, The xx took some time off and group member Jamie xx released a stellar solo album, In Colour. Deviating from it’s predecessors, I See You sounds more like a continuation of Jamie xx’s solo work featuring added vocals. As a whole, this change of sound is effective: the bright, electronic production of Jamie xx is excellently mixed with the dreamy vocals of The xx to create a unique and exciting listen. Certain tracks from each artist even seem to parallel one another in style. The slow build to a sample-reliant chorus on standout track “On Hold” is distinctly reminiscent of Jamie xx’s “Loud Places.” In addition, The xx’s “A Violent Noise” and Jamie xx’s “Stranger in a Room” both feature synths that belong on a dance track that are transformed by reverb-heavy guitars and haunting vocals, creating an eerie, gloomy club sound. However, on tracks like “Brave For You” and “Test Me,” the blend of styles sounds forced, and the ambitious production of Jamie xx leaves a bad taste in the listener’s mouth.
While the group’s sound has changed in the four years that have elapsed since their sophomore record, The xx’s subject matter has always focused on love, with I See You being no exception. Delivering some of their best performances yet, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim sing beautiful duets with nearly tangible chemistry that add to the vulnerable lyrics (“Say something loving / I just can’t remember the thrill of affection / … I need a reminder the feelings escaped me”).
Overall, on I See You, The xx develop and progress their sound with excellent results, creating a fantastic record filled with intimate moments, danceable beats and everything in between.