The XX explore new sounds on I See You

EVER SINCE their Mercury award winning debut in 2009, The XX have, understandably, been watched by the music press with a beady eye. From the sparse and haunting xx to the even more minimal Coexist, the band has been a constant source of inspiration for a new wave of British Indietronica bands and beyond. After the release of Jamie xx’s brilliant solo debut, In Colour, in 2015, it seems that the band have taken a leaf out of his book, creating something that feels much upbeat and danceable than their previous releases.

Right from opener ‘Dangerous’, I See You is immediately a switch up from past XX records, with blaring horn samples, Garage influenced beats, and Romy and Oliver giving us some pretty decent vocal hooks. When it comes to the bridge, it really gives Romy the chance to give an empowered performance, a far cry from the humble performance in the debut. The track ‘Lips’ also brings up the tempo, with a very New Wave beat which utilises a sumptuous vocal sample that works well with the existing vocal performance.

On lead singles ‘Say Something Loving’ and ‘On Hold’ the duo’s vocals are twisted into hooks and rhythms that, for the most part, and pretty enjoyable to listen to. The latter also shows them working hand in hand with Jamie’s sample work, the Hall & Oates sample adding an extra layer of bliss to the track. Lyrically, the band don’t seem to deviate much from their previous topics of love, however, in conjunction with this new sound, they feel a lot more uplifting. It’s like Romy and Oliver are reveling in new found joy and emotions that bleed into the music.

But really, the most enjoyable part of this album comes from Jamie’s production. The use of samples, the heavenly keys and synthersisers and pulsating trap beats are utterly brilliant. So much so they kind of detract from the vocals, which, despite the change up from previous releases, can be pretty lacklustre at moments. If anything, I See You had me longing more for a new solo Jamie xx record, than it did warming towards the record itself. While on some of the slower, tenderer cuts of this record, such as ‘Test Me’ and ‘Performance’, the vocals work in a similar way to how they did on previous XX releases, but on the more energetic songs the vocals seem to bog down the beat, which is a massive shame.

That’s not to say there aren’t any really nice places on here where there’s a decent balance between the two. The song ‘I Dare You’ sees a passionate performance from both Romy and Oliver, and brings a tom heavy drum beat with wailing, yet somehow subtle, sirens topping it. ‘Brave For You’ features some heavenly synths, some dainty guitar work and a pulsating bass line that sticks the whole thing together nicely. Unfortunately the song ‘A Violent Noise’ just doesn’t seem to work, and feels more like a cluttered, messy track that fails to grasp hold of the listener’s attention.

It’s really good to see that The XX are moving away from the sound they have become so associated with, however, by the same token, there are points that haven’t fully made that transition into this new direction. The result is an album that contains mostly blissful highlights, but also a few muddy moments that let it down.

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