Music Reviews
I See You

The xx I See You

(Young Turks) Rating - 8/10

In 2010, The xx played Coachella for the first time. Surrounded by a modest but enthusiastic crowd, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim hold the fort at the front of the stage, still unsure of their on-stage personas. Jamie Smith hunches protectively over his synths, dark glasses obscuring his expression. Even in their shyness and apprehension as a young band, one thing is clear: the power of their bond. It’s instinctive to throw each other an encouraging glance, always checking in. They beat as a unit, imaginary strings connecting them together, holding each other up.

Like all good relationships, there must be room for growth. Smith’s critically acclaimed solo output is the most obvious indication of branching out from the band. However, Madley Croft and Sim also parted ways – across continents and circumstances. The trio, strengthened by the inevitable mix of age and fortitude, have delivered the most diverse and bold record of their career.

I See You is a sprawling album. The band has embraced the spectacle, yet it is not the antithesis of their previous minimalist work. While the technical skill couldn't be denied, the group suffered from their own success on sophomore album Coexist. Trying earnestly to protect their distinctive sound, they managed to retreat rather than blossom. Swimming under the four-on-the-floors and blaring horns, the haunting vulnerability that defined The xx’s beginnings is as potent as ever on I See You. This time, it’s effortless.

Ditching the sparse instrumentation that lent itself to live shows, Smith was finally able to breathe life into his stockpile of samples and mixes alongside his bandmates. The album’s first single, On Hold, caused a stir when it dropped in late 2016. A warped Hall & Oates sample, an unforgivingly 80s-esque back-and-forth between Sim and Madley Croft, and enough groove to have a proper dance to ushered in a startling, but timely, new direction for the band.

Tracks like Dangerous and Lips take the group into uncharted territory. The former features house beats and horns, and the latter’s complex instrumental is peppered with tropical influences, claps and drips. Smith’s luscious compositions pave the way for the twin vocalists to decorate each track with newfound confidence. Performance is panoramic, with low strings amplifying Madley Croft’s heartache. Make no mistake, it’s her heartache. Yet, A Violent Noise is Sim’s story of rejecting his excessive lifestyle. The song splinters and cracks with arpeggios, suffocating under the weight of a club track under the surface. It’s always been about teamwork with The xx, but never before have they embraced the potential of their respective strengths like this.

I Dare You is an unabashed love song. Each second swells with warmth and positivity. There’s the distinct feeling that tracks like this and On Hold are delivered with a knowing and encouraging smile, or a nod in the direction of a bandmate. "Our comfort zone is a very small place,” Madley Croft once remarked. However, this album is proof that their comfort zone is simply the presence of each other. I See You is not a canvas. It is vast space. It is filled with creation, love, individuality, and most importantly, the capacity to hold everyone in it.  [Believe the Hype]