The xx
I See You


3.6
great

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
January 13th, 2017 | 153 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A seesaw between past and future.

It’s readily apparent from the buzzing two-step and brazen horns on opener “Dangerous” that the xx have hitched their wagon completely and finally to Jamie Smith’s star. After the muted, hesitant Coexist it was clear that the xx weren’t going to be able to coast off the haunting goth-pop of an unusually striking debut; that self-titled record was the sort of phenomenon that only comes around once in a great while, pop songs cloaked in mystery and hurt and driven by icy, crystalline beatmaking. Billboard is still imitating the xx in 2016, but the band itself struggled to do much more than create a pale imitation of the original on Coexist, vibrant album cover notwithstanding. They encounter no such trouble clambering out of the shackles of their past here, however. “Dangerous” makes a beeline straight for the dance floor, while first single “On Hold” pitch-shifts an old Hall and Oates hit into the xx’s most unrepentantly funky track. Smith’s warmly received 2015 record, In Colour, is the most obvious touchstone, but while the edges have been smoothed down to practically nothing and the value is through the roof, the focus, as always, remains on the band’s uncanny sense of intimacy.

There’s a maturity to the approach of vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft that is highlighted by the production putting them up front and center. The xx are synonymous with tales of quiet desperation, but Smith’s work on I See You enhances Sim’s and Madley-Croft’s decidedly modest vocal stylings by focusing on the emotional depth charges their packed lyrics bring, making the songs, at their best, impossible to just float along with. Consider “Brave for You” - a track that would have barely registered above much of a murmur on previous albums - where Smith’s carefully manicured production gently but firmly accompanies Madley-Croft’s letter to her dead parents, with a laser sharp synth line arcing around and a bit of jungle in the drums. The disillusionment Sim struggles with in “A Violent Noise” is reflected in the gradual build-up in the track, playing with the expectations of your classic rave drop by emphasizing the isolation and emptiness that permeates a club more often than not (“Is the music too loud for me to hear"”, Sim asks pointedly). “Say Something Loving” flips its soft-rock tropes on its head, twisting a straightforward story of longing and disappointment into a perpetual motion machine of drum samples, the singers’ second-guessing reflected brightly in the music. The album is a crate digger’s dream; every track reveals something new to dive into, another previously unnoticed sonic flourish.

I See You is nevertheless still very much an xx album. “Performance” is the centerpiece of the album, and as Madley-Croft’s finest vocal showcase, underlined by little more than a melancholy guitar line and swirling ghosts of violins in the background, it is very much a nostalgic treat for fans. Brutal closer “Test Me” will also be familiar to those who miss the group’s duets, and Smith’s delicate touches, descending into phantom vocal snippets and a rising tide of noise, only accentuate what is a devastating confession between the two. The mixing of old tricks with a new coat of paint is one that generally serves I See You well, but as rich as the songs get here, it doesn’t pack quite as big a punch as band no doubt intended. Whether that’s because of the bit of levity that Smith’s production here brings, or the uneven juxtaposition of tracks that are alternately awkward and jumbled (“Lips”) and by-the-numbers mid-tempo shuffling (“Replica”), few things, other than some particularly bold choices, stand out (“On Hold” was a brilliant single choice, in other words). I See You is a pleasant enough listen, and in embracing Smith’s more hot-blooded production, the xx have avoided becoming stuck in a rut a second time. Yet like Sim and Madley-Croft in song after song, I See You still leaves me wanting something undefined: something more.




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user ratings (303)
Chart.
3.4
great
other reviews of this album
Drubbi (4.5)
Incorporating old and new, The XX create a fresh album that was certainly worth the wait....

Luckynum19 (4)
The xx fiddle with a new sound while exploring some interesting lyrical themes....

ChronicSmiler (4)
Chemistry....



Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
January 13th 2017


11824 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

most if not all of the album is available on their soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/thexxofficial



2017 let's goooo

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
January 13th 2017


8543 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

you come back to review the one fucking thing i was looking forward to reviewing grhhh

Digging: Maxo Kream - Punken

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 13th 2017


11824 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

have at it chief

Frippertronics
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


16164 Comments


at least he ain't touching the new flaming lips

















right?

Digging: The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 13th 2017


11824 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

i can only give sputnik so much awesomeness at once/i'm out of town starting tmrw. take the wheel fripp

Frippertronics
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


16164 Comments


bless

sowing gave me the go ahead so i'll see what I can conjure up


(that, and taking care of the new Foxygen)

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


17249 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Their previous output I considered solid 2.5 material - is this made of the same stuff?

BHAR
January 13th 2017


231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Not really. I'm enjoying this a lot more than Coexist. It could be a 4.0 tomorrow.

Bozilla
January 13th 2017


24 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm quite down with the upbeatness of it, both of the singles were helluh sick too

theBoneyKing
January 13th 2017


13482 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Oh hey a Rudy review, what a great way to start out 2017! I've heard a handful of the band's songs before, always found them pretty nice but nothing special but I'll give this a try.



Hoping to see you back next month to review the new Ryan Adams, Rudy!

Digging: Calexico - The Black Light

redrig
January 13th 2017


109 Comments


b-o-r-i-n-g

JWT155
January 13th 2017


13691 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Completely agree with your assessment of their transition, there's no way they'd ever be able to replicate the sound and success of their debut, treading new water with Jamie closer to the helm is a very smart move for the band. I'm digging the record so far.

neekafat
January 13th 2017


8119 Comments


"A seesaw between past and future."
Dayum

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


17249 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I quite liked two of the songs off this but will have to listen again to remember which.



It's the xx, it's a traditional Doof 2.5



Let's be honest, the band sound safer and somehow even more beige than Coldplay

JWT155
January 13th 2017


13691 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

No way this is safer than Coldplay; Coldplay have literally written the textbook on being a band on autopilot the last decade and haven't made anything of relevance since Viva La Vida.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


17249 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I dunno, Coldplay skirt close to cheesy/bad taste in places and Chris Martin has shown evidence of a personality and ego...this lot don't even boast that.



This is the sort of band who give you two decent pop songs an album surrounded by some nondescript atmospheric fodder and then repeat the approach across a five album career. It's just their type.



The career retrospective 'Best Of' will be nice - a 3.5, maybe even a 4.

JWT155
January 13th 2017


13691 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I can listen to this and still hear a band being somewhat experimental with their sound and having fun, Coldplay sound like they're directly phoning it in with little to no inspiration or creativity. Just throw some piano and banging drums along with splashing brightly colored paint on our touring gear and viola, you got this years edition of Coldplay, maybe even with a Bieber feature.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


17249 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I'll admit Jamie xx clearly learnt a few things releasing his full debut and he does return with a few new tricks - the songs where I noticed this were my favourites.

neekafat
January 13th 2017


8119 Comments


Fuck you, Coldplay are great

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2017


17249 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Some people believe that yes



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