Sometimes subtlety can speak just as loud as brashness. Indie pop trio The xx know this all too well. Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith made a name for themselves in 2009 with their debut album xx, which introduced the world to their ethereal take on pop music. Sim’s and Croft’s dueling vocals paired fantastically with Smith’s electronically-influenced compositions, and the record won the Mercury Prize, usually cited as the UK’s most prestigious music award, the following year. It’s been somewhat of a long time coming for the band’s newest record I See You, as they’ve been working on it since mid-2014. However, like all good things, it’s definitely worth the wait.
Unlike past records, I See You steps out of the restrained haze that dominated the former two. The record still contains the dreamlike reverb and echoey atmosphere of previous projects, but with a more upbeat, expansive feel. Smith’s 2015 solo album In Colour must have been fresh on his mind during recording sessions, as the album incorporates house, UK garage and funk on a number of songs. No other song represents this change in style than first track “Dangerous.” Containing an irresistable deep house-like combination of drums and hi hats, it’s the perfect opener to an album that the band described as “more outward-looking, open and expansive.”
Smith is usually cited among fans as the most vital cog of the xx machine, and he certainly proves his case on this record. As stated previously, the album still has the halituous sound the band is known for, but Smith kicks it up a notch by making the songs more anthemic, if you could even call them that. Some songs contain crescendo-ic qualities, building up before crashing not in colossal, rambunctious ways, but rather in quietly epic ones. “Replica,” the album’s crown jewel, fits this mold. After Croft and Sim’s monotonous-yet-fitting chorus, the song breaks open, erupting into an expansive space filled with Croft’s echoey guitar, distant island-flavored effects and deep, haunting piano.
Even with all these exciting and interesting new compositions, it’d all be for naught if Croft and Sim didn’t turn in their best vocal performances to date. The two, specifically Croft, sound as confident as ever, and deliver the lyrics with heartfelt emotion and yearning. On “Performance,” Croft tells the tale of hiding your true feelings from ex/potential lovers beautifully, and you can hear the emotion behind her voice, as if she knows the story all to well. 2nd single “Say Something Loving” has the two’s back-and-forth vocals at centerstage, as Smith’s production takes a backseat. The duo describe how important the feeling of love is to them with simple-yet-relatable lyrics. “You say something loving/It’s so overwhelming, the thrill of affection/Feels so unfamiliar,” they croon, further proving that they were seemingly made to sing together.
The band followed up arguably their most subdued album, 2012’s Coexist, with easily their most expansive. On I See You, The xx have reinvented themselves without abandoning their most endearing or popular qualities, and managed to make an album that not only will appeal to their core fanbase but perhaps to a new audience altogether. Their debut is often cited as the starting point for the band; their third is giving that title a run for it’s money.