The XX are probably the biggest Indie act to come out of the UK in the past decade. The trio released their self-titled debut in 2009 to critical fanfare. The album’s near-skeletal minimalism stood out amongst the music of the time and became a popular standard for indie in the new decade. Their second album “Coexist” was not as critically praised, but continued the trends they began.
With their third and latest record, The XX veer off in a new direction, focusing on a more dance and electronic sound. This seems like a continuation of producer and member Jamie XX’s 2015 solo record “In Colour” which was one of the best records of that year.
This proves to be a good choice, as “I See You” is easily the most interesting record The XX have released to date. The minimalism of their earlier albums may have garnered praise for their innovative use of empty space, and have since inspired a number of bands, but the music was never particularly engaging to me. The vocals felt uninspired, with the instrumentals feeling more thin and incomplete than creatively abstract.
Jamie has obviously since improved as a producer over the years, however, and there is some truly pretty music on “I See You.” The instrumentals are frequently multi-layered and ethereal, switching back and forth between groovy dance jams and spacey ambience. The opener, “Dangerous” is a irresistibly catchy piece of work, a very enjoyable new sound for the band.
The duel vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim continue to be a bit of a weak link here. Their voices mesh better with the music better than they ever have (Especially on the haunting “Say Something Loving,” a standout track), but still their low-key singing voices come across as uninterested or irritatingly sentimental. The lyrics occasionally share this tiresome sentimentality. The lead single “On Hold” (while once again featuring awesome production, go figure), is a bit cheesy and maudlin. There are exceptions, though. The bad collectively sounds pretty good on “Lips” and “A Violent Noise.”
Still, the goods much more outweigh the bads this time around. Piddling in a new sound is the best thing they could have done in terms of engagement, and it’s a trend I hope the group can expand on in their future work. Jamie’s production is easily the strongest point of this record, and, even while still a bit weak, the lyrics and vocals work together with the music better than they ever have for this group. The result is a handful of very pretty songs.