The xx

I See You

Written by: MIN on 31/01/2017 14:17:33

I could only imagine the toll it takes on a band to suddenly propel into stardom. The xx’s self-titled debut album carved out a sound that was hard to pigeon-hole, as it incorporated several different influences in its music yet still managed to sound unique, thus drawing a lot of attention. All of a sudden the band won the highly regarded Mercury Prize for its debut album, which consequently ended up selling more than 300.000 copies in the U.S. alone, and the band went from undercard to headliners at several major festivals in just a few years. Seeing as the band’s second album, ”Coexist”, and a soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s movie “The Great Gatsby” only boosted their popularity, no one was surprised when The xx announced that they were recording their third studio album back in 2014. But that it should take the band three years to finish it was somewhat unexpected.

The xx isn’t the only band to become this popular this fast. Since the inception of rock’n’ roll some sixty years ago, it has happened to more bands and pop artists than I dare think of. But it has got to be tough, and the band’s third LP, “I See You”, is a reflection of that. Throughout the album, a ‘push-and-pull-turned-dualism’ between vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim exists that sees them constantly reflect on the trials that exist when being in a band, being on tour and in the studio, getting big and renowned, and going out and delivering the same show night after night. It’s best exemplified in “Replica”, where Sim ponders about the constant partying, the dependency on each other and the faults of being so close for so long:

25 and you’re just like me // Is it in my nature to be stuck on repeat? // Another encore to an aftershow // Do I chase the night or do the night chase me? // Mirroring situations like you’re an imitation // Do I watch and repeat? // And as if I tried to, I turned out just like you // Do we watch and repeat?

The song is one of the most resounding tracks to the band’s early material. A thick atmosphere aided by a bouncing bass line and gorgeous dropping guitar notes create a backdrop for the vocalists’ somber harmonies right up until a keyboard melody kicks in and adds volume to the entire track. Most of the album, however, is greatly inspired by the band’s DJ, Jamie Smith aka. Jamie xx and his branching out. In 2015, he released his debut solo record, “In Colour”, and the increased focus on electronic melodies is far more evident on “I See You” than it previously has been. Album-opener “Dangerous” is a good example of this, as it features a sampled horn-section, a steady beat plus progressive sounds throughout.

Basically, The xx have taken the sound of their sophomore record and added the influences from Smith’s solo album, creating a set of songs that makes you think and want to dance at the same time. The atmosphere on “I See You” is rarely as dark, desolate or hopeless as it was on the band’s debut album; instead, it’s much lighter and, when void of electronic samples, almost minimalistic - reminiscent of “Coexist”. An example of this collision between sounds is the track “A Violent Noise”, which nicely juxtaposes the minimalism, intimacy and electricity; there’s room for the lonesome guitar, the fragile vocals and the beat that suddenly drops.

Unfortunately, there are times where The xx get a little too light-headed and sugar-sweet for my taste. “I Dare You” is bland and frustratingly forgettable with its basic beat and colorless chorus, and both “Lips” and “Say Something Loving” fail to raise either heart rate or arm hair. No, the album’s biggest draw is the many times where its bleak, desolate tracks (“Test Me”, “Performance”) and danceable party anthems (“On Hold”) meet. If you’re a fan of the band’s previous albums, expect something new that’s also lingering in the past. If you’ve always been sceptic, perhaps you should give “I See You” a go. It definitely has a lot to offer. If anything, it’s worth it just to give it a go for the interplay between Croft and Sim, as many of their lyrical reflections are both human and grounded without striving for pretentiousness, resulting in an enjoyable and relatable listening experience.

Download: A Violent Noise, Replica, On Hold, Test Me
For the fans of: Beach House, CHVRCHES, Blue Foundation, Jamie xx
Listen: Facebook

Release date 13.01.2016
Young Turks

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