“A friend can sometimes see you better than you can see yourself”, a quote by Oliver Sim in The xx’s recent Pitchfork story sums up the inspiration to the English indie band’s third album, I See You. The album is the follow-up to their previous effort Coexist in 2012, to which in between Jamie xx, the producer of the band, released his album In Colour, taking over the scene as the most famous, critically acclaimed member of the band. With the album cover of a very blurry reflection of the three band members, it’s a subtle metaphor of how it’s hard to truly see people in their truest form in life and relationships, and more so your own self, but with the help of a friend, that image sometimes becomes clearer.
On their third album, The xx has broken from their previous chains, into a burst of more expansive and bright style. With the lead single “On Hold”, I was frankly disappointed because of the mainstream sound that it’s got, quickly drifting away from the simplistic, moody sound from their debut that all xx fans fell in love with. But with the 40 minute runtime of the album, The xx has proved that they can have a complete change of style, while still holding on to their uniqueness, being able to make every track mix so nicely that it’s just one huge blend of emotions, and the diverse switches of beats by Jamie xx that trademarks each track as well. The change of sound was explained by band members that during the creation of their first two albums, they wanted every song to be recreated live at all occasions, which rules out lots of production ideas. For this album, they wanted to just “make music”, and that worked like a charm. I See You is simply the most refreshing comeback that could’ve been pulled off by the band after a four-year wait.
In the 10 tracks of the album, all talents of all three band members were also equally shown. However, the influence of Jamie xx’s solo music is definitely clearest to see, most evidently from this album being the first from The xx to use edited samples, which Smith considers his own voice in making music. The result in using the samples were effective as well, like one of the most memorable moments of “Say Something Loving” being the sample of the 1976 song from Alessi Brothers, being used at the start and throughout the song. At the same time Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals form dialogues and intertwine with one another, forming a harmony of which their voices doesn’t quite blend, but making up that eeriness in it. Smith’s footprints are also found in the synths of “A Violent Noise” and the echoes in the chorus, or the chimes in the chorus of “Replica” that resembled the chimes in “Obvs”, a cut from In Colour.
The contrasts of energy in the album are also where the highlights of the album usually are. The high of the album is the opener “Dangerous”, where a funky beat follows the powerful short attacks of trumpets, a song that would never have thought to be anywhere near the style of the band. Then there’s the urban-influenced “Lips”, which almost has a catchy chorus that you could nod your head to in a record store. “Test Me”, being the closer and arguably the most emotionally fragile moment of the album, has production that almost makes you feel like you’re floating underwater, just so hauntingly magnificent. The warm tone of vocals carries through in “I Dare You” gives out a sense of reunion; “I’m on a different kind of high”, Romy sings on the track, you’ve never heard the band sound so joyous in their discography.
In conclusion, I See You is a brilliant release to those that’ve waited four years for a release. Compared to their stellar self-titled debut in 2009, the cohesiveness and the band’s ability to create such unique ideas for every track remains, even when their style is completely different. What’s different is that with the production so expanded and their musical ideas so broadened, the distinctive ideas of each track remains in your head, unlike previous efforts where you wouldn’t really pinpoint which track’s which, because it’s just one huge track of beats and vocals. With a band that’s always kept to their minimalist, small comfort zones, this sudden burst has freed The xx into brand new, soaring heights.
(7.8 / 10)