The xx ‘I See You’ Review: British trio bounce back from the sophomore slump on their triumphant third release.
London’s The xx are one of those rare bands: a group that storms out of the gate fully formed, with an assured, unique style that many bands take years to accumulate.
Their 2009 début became an instant classic, mixing soul, new wave and goth into something ethereal and otherworldly. But instant success has its drawbacks, and the pressure for their follow-up had an impact on 2012’s Co-Exist, which felt a little too safe, resting on its laurels rather than pushing the envelope.
Now, following band-member/DJ/producer mastermind Jamie xx’s successful 2015 solo dance album In Colour, the group have returned with I See You, an album that dramatically expands upon the group’s signature sonic template with dynamic results, infused with many of In Colour’s danciest elements. This winning combo has helped reinvigorate the trio’s sound.
By now you’ve probably heard the lead single On Hold, which showed a new side of the band, upbeat, high energy and effusive, and one of the biggest hooks of any song you’ll hear this year (punctuated by a euphoric Hall and Oates sample).
This upbeat, high-energy attack is the most dramatic difference in The xx’s bag of tricks, as witnessed on album opener Dangerous, an aggressive grooving tune peppered with 70’s blaxploitation horns and a shuffling dance beat featuring simmering vocals by Oliver Sims and Romy Madley-Croft.
But while this club-friendly merging of the group’s sound with Jamie xx’s dance-floor roots is a definite shot in the arm (the beatific I Dare You is a particular standout), the band’s down tempo style still remains, employed in effective fashion on the somber A Violent Noise, soulful Say Something Loving and the touching Performance, featuring Madley-Croft’s most beautifully bruised vocal’s since 2009’s Shelter (“I’ll put on a performance I’ll put on a brave face.”)
This is most pronounced on the brooding album closer Test Me, a Madley Croft number which feels like a mission statement of a group forced to expand from their comfort zone while also battling inner demons (such as Sim’s treatment for alcohol abuse) and creative tension: “Just take it out on me/ It’s easier than saying what you mean.”
I See You is just the type of soulful, insistent shot in the arm this anxious, weary planet needs in 2017, and it proves The xx are far from a fluke: they’re the soundtrack that fits the world best at the moment.
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