Album Review: The xx – I See You

Release Date: January 13th 2017

Label: Young Turks

Genre: Alternative Dance, Dream Pop, Indie Pop

The xx have come through with their fullest, richest and most sonically engaging record to date, but one that ultimately falls short of what it could have been. 

The xx broke out with the release of their debut album, xx, in 2009 to critical acclaim, and although some of the tracks off of this record blew me out of the water, such as “Intro”, “Crystalised” and “Islands”, the album overall failed to grab my attention for its entire runtime, despite repeatedly returning to it. Their 2012 sophomore release, Coexist, felt like a bit of a step backward for the band at the time, and I still maintain that it does not live up to much of the promise demonstrated on their debut. And now, the British band’s third record, I See You, has finally released, and it is certainly a better release than Coexist, however, also an album that falls into the same trap as xx, a record with some outstanding tracks that just fails to grab me for its entirety.

Most of what I love about this record is to do with Jamie xx’s production, whose 2015 solo debut, In Colour, was one of my favourite releases of that year. Jamie’s role in the band has shifted somewhat, with his production becoming more prevalent on this record than ever before as the band opt for a dancier aesthetic, which, to me, works to their benefit. Lead single “On Hold” encapsulates this perfectly, incorporating swirling dance rhythms behind delicate instrumentation that then breaks down into a gorgeous vocal sample of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”.

It is I See You‘s moodier, slower moments that tend to rub me the wrong way (with the exception of the passionate “Performance”, which is a standout), with tracks like “Test Me” lacking the type of emotion and passion in both the vocal performances and the instrumentation that could carry it through. Such a moment perfectly captures why the moody aesthetic the band frequently goes for often sees their tracks become rather forgettable and skippable.

I am glad that The xx have made an attempt to broaden their sound, with the result being a more adventurous and sonically engaging record than their sophomore release, however, I would love to see them continue down this path of experimentation with dancier production and a more passionate energy on a whole project in the future.

I See You may not be my favourite album of the year, but it certainly shows The xx’s ability to craft catchy, punchy songs full of emotion and substance when they aren’t too caught up in crafting a moody, brooding aesthetic. I understand why this aesthetic is appealing to so many, but the lack of emotion, passion and chemistry that often comes as a result rubs me the wrong way. I yearn for an album by this band that grips me for its entire runtime, and although I See You is not this album, I’m confident that it will come eventually, especially if Jamie continues to deliver such gorgeous and swirling production.

6.5/10

Favourite Tracks: Replica, On Hold, Dangerous, Performance

You can buy I See You here.

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