I See You, the xx's third studio album, sees them embrace a more club-friendly sound
On I See You, the minimalist British trio known as the xx move away from the sometimes hushed and often sparse music that defined their first two albums to embrace a club friendly sound that fuses Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft's signature dueling guitars with Jamie Smith (stage name, Jamie xx)'s rave-ready beats.
Album opener, 'Dangerous', serves as a statement of intent for the band, starting the 40-minute album with blaring trumpets before seguing into a slinky beat that wouldn't feel out of place at your next retro dance party, built on a thumping percussive backbone.
The new direction comes as no surprise to those that have kept abreast of member Jamie xx's solo output, which is a distinctive mix of club-ready bangers that captures the euphoria of a night spent on your feet, as the music builds in successive waves. On his solo album, 2015’s In Colour, the other two members of the band guested, individually, on several songs. Those songs, 'Loud Places' and 'SeeSaw', which features Romy Croft and ‘Stranger in a Room’ which features Oliver Sim wouldn't feel out of place on this album and when they were released in 2015 whet the appetite of fans of the group who were waiting for a follow up to 2012's Coexist.
That's not to say that I See You feels like a Jamie xx album, but rather it manages to combine the music that allowed the band to sound so distinctive over two albums, spawning an array of musicians who tried to replicate their hushed, confessional singing over pared down sounds. Eight years since their debut, the trio still uses hushed voices, and confessional lyrics to grab those that have grown accustomed to the xx’s signature style, but this record takes joyfully from the music landscape of the band’s youth (lead single, ‘On Hold’ after all surprised fans with a Hall and Oates sample), while also serving to bring together a range of influences, and carefully honed sounds into a package of 10 songs that will please long time fans, and those that are curious after listing to Jamie xx’s more club ready album. This is after all, an album that samples Drake.
That the trio have lightened up, is evident from the joyous Alasdair McLellan videos for the first two singles, ‘On Hold’ and ‘Say Something Loving’, which capture scenes of suburban Americana that were no doubt, influenced by the record being partly recorded in Los Angeles and Marfa, Texas (in addition to New York, London and Reykjavik).
Lyrically, the reason the band have always connected with young hearts is because of their focus on love and friendship, but this album sees the trio tackle, however obliquely, Sim’s alcoholism and Croft losing both her parents. So ‘Brave for You’ has a chorus that seems to be a direct conversation between Croft and her parents, “So I will be brave for you/Stand on a stage for you/Do the things that I’m afraid to do/I know you want me to/I will be brave/I know you want me to” This doesn’t mean that the trio—known for their starry-eyed lyrics has given up on love, but this time the lyrics on the album have widened to include a range of different issues, as the members of the band grow up.
Introspective and honest, the lyrics on offer an insight into life on the road (as Sim’s cracked voice sings on ‘Replica’) and the album ends with a paean to the friendship between Croft and Sim, one can be either strengthened or shattered by spending months on the road, touring. That song, ‘Test Me’, about trio’s friendship with each other, mirrors the closing song, ‘Our Song’, on their previous album, Coexist. “Just take it out on me/It's easier than saying what you mean/Test me, see if I break” is how the chorus of ‘Test Me’, starts, and taken together with the lyrics of ‘Our Song’, “And there’s no else/ Who knows me/ Like you do/ All I’ve done, you’ve done too” it speaks to a friendship that’s weathered extremes.