The xx (photo by Laura Coulson, PR)
I See You
You could describe the xx as the little band that could. Small, unassuming, and insular, the xx — guitarist and vocalist Romy Madley Croft, bassist and vocalist Oliver Sim, and producer and beats-maker Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx — has touched people with bare, yet inviting, emotionally candid songs.
Utilizing both electronic beats and pulses, as well as quiet and space, The xx create a rhythmic atmosphere where listeners can simultaneously get lost and dance. The trio's new album, I See You, comes more than four years after their second release, Coexist. It also follows 2015's In Colour, the first solo effort from Jamie xx.
The xx carefully crafted I See You for more than two years, recording in western Texas, Los Angeles, Reykjavik, New York, and London. The result is an album that reflects a more confidant, mature, and developed sound for the trio. I See You possesses most of the same elements that struck a chord with fans on their 2009 debut, xx, and Coexist, but on this new one, these elements have been refined as the band opened up and moved beyond some of the self-imposed restrictions of the past.
This latest album benefits from the continued evolution of Jamie xx as a disc jockey, programmer and producer. His beats and samples enrich the music and provide a sturdy base to build on. The lyrics and vocals of Madley Croft and Sim are the heart and soul of the xx and they are at the core of these new songs. Both vocalists create a conversational give-and-take that deals with love, loss, fear, and heartbreak. These are songs anyone can relate to and they relay common emotions.
The fuller sound displayed on I See You jumps out right away as “Dangerous” announces the album with a burst of startling electronic horns, followed by complex beats. “On Hold” incorporates a sample lifted from Daryl Hall and John Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)" while “Lips” bounces along an exotic palate of pulses and thumps. “A Violent Noise” shifts from a bare landscape and is disturbed by carefully placed, synthesized notes.
The album’s most poignant moment is “Performance,” a song where Madley Croft displays a heart wrenching vulnerability as she sings about hiding one’s insecurities and pain behind a brave face.
It has been eleven years since the xx first formed in London as teenagers. Originally a quartet (guitarist and keyboardist Baria Qureshi left shortly after the band's debut), the now-trio has always embraced a sparse sound that still managed to be warm and inviting. Deeply honest lyrics created an atmosphere that resonated with listeners. Now we can embrace I See You.