The importance of The XX's self-titled debut album cannot be understated. It subliminally influenced lyrical and musical aspects of pop music, as well as the 'haunting' atmosphere of pop music. The intense, youthful and in tandem, text-like lyrics which roll back and forth between Romi Madley Croft and Oliver Sim brought a brooding sense of romance (or the loss of it) and the longing desires of sex and intimacy in the modern age. That influence is still heard today, and pop music was unexpectedly changed by one of the most accidentally brilliant debut albums of the 2000's. Their second album, Coexist, revealed a band uncertain how to break the shackles of a particularly brilliant debut. This wasn't a conventional 'flop' sophomore album, as it instead revealed a band creatively trapped within the confines not only of their first album but of the influence it had put out onto the musical landscape. It was a gorgeous album with some stand out tracks, however it revealed a band teetering on the edge of exhausting their identity of relentlessly hesitant lyrics and weeping and injured guitars.
I See You finds the band releasing music together as The xx for the first time in four years, and within that time Jamie Smith (better known as Jamie xx) released his solo album In Colour to critical acclaim. His euphoric, summer-tinged and upbeat solo affair (with tracks like 'Loud Places' and 'SeeSaw' revealing the direction this new album has taken) has bled into I See You, and in turn The xx's sound and aesthetic with relatively positive results. I See You further illustrates the challenges of young love and heartache once again, however its framed through a newly vibrant sonic palette and a self-reflexive maturity. The broadening of this scope works well as the distinctive vocals of Romi Madley Croft and Oliver Sim retain the identity of the band, while the now robust approach to their sound (which teeters on jubilant at times) shows glimmers of light from the shadowy ambience they once resided
The opening track 'Dangerous' confidently reveals the new direction the band have taken. The blast of sampled horns, a funky bassline which is accompanied by a scattering drumbeat which is only made recognisable as The xx when the vocals breathe in. The lead single 'On Hold' is very catchy, however is an underwhelming track in comparison to the rest of the album. The shoe-horned Hall and Oates sample, although infectious, doesn't quite belong within The xx's periphery just yet. The album highlight is undoubtedly 'Replica', which ponders those rhetorical questions you can never quite get an answer for. Whether you're enjoying your youth or just trying to give off the impression you are, or if you're becoming like your parents - residing them fatalistically to the fact that our emotions and mistakes "were only chemical." It's the song on this album which perfectly encapsulates our initial understanding of this band while sounding unlike anything they've done before.
This change of style is not necessarily bold due to Jamie xx's solo effort essentially guiding this direction, however it is interesting and works to varying effect. The main problem is the level of sincerity in terms of direction, there's a level of scepticism as to how much this is a synthesis of the three band members talents coming together or an appeasement to the appeal of In Colour. The advantage that The xx have in terms of retaining some form of identity is the vocals between Romi Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. They've retained their self-professed anxieties in the themes they explore. I See You is an audacious change of aesthetic and sound which is an interesting re-appropriation of their identity as a band. It is a return of grounded potential.
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