Release Date ► 2017-01-13
Length ► 39:15
Label ► Young Turks
Formats ► Digital, CD, Vinyl
From the moment the first song “Dangerous” begins, the difference between The xx now from before is immediately noticeable. The extraneously deliberate and minimalistic sound from the previous album Coexist has been largely broadened into a groovier and sleeker one. Where once they were somber and meditative, they are now aloof and nonchalant. Tracks like “On Hold”, and “Say Something Loving” have instantly captivating beats and melodies that stick in your head and give you a calming yet even keel vibe. Even slower tracks like “I Dare You” evoke provocative feelings with its driving beat and sultry melody, cementing its tone with lyrics like “I’m on a different kind of high.”
This change is a welcome one as their previous sound, though not a limitation of the style, lacked immediacy. I See You seeks to fix this by switching less for more and, as a result, has a more mainstream sound. That’s not to say that the album has a more commercial or simplistic feel. The move away from minimalism towards a more spry sound is a result of The xx’s expanding their sound, allowing for more options sonically and utilizing more instrumentation for ambiance rather than relying on silence to provide that. Songs like “A Violent Noise” resemble their earlier work, but rather than being a recreation, it’s an evolution of their sound, adding rather than subtracting.
If anything, for as much as they are willing to experiment with including more to their sound, they seem unwilling to break away from their past work completely. Many of the songs still have characteristic attributes associated with The xx such as hushed tones, sparse compositions, and Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith’s intimate vocals. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing. “Brave For You” is a highlight of the album, with its haunting ambient keyboard, thumping bass, and Croft’s earnest vocals. However, songs like “Performance” don’t have the weight to give themselves distinct personalities and as a result, tend to blend into or sound like other tracks.
That makes this album stuck between a rock and a hard place. So many new ideas were built on a foundation it wasn’t meant for. The album definitely has its ups and downs in terms of quality as weaker songs are sprinkled in between the stronger ones. The way it begins with the high point of “Dangerous” only to end with the anemic “Test Me” showcases this perfectly. Furthermore, the album is lyrically standard, with nothing worthy of note. It may be two steps forward and two steps back in some instances, but it definitely manages to progress The xx forward. I would like to see more of an evolution for their next release but what’s here is still solid. Best listened to as a whole. Perfect for an introverted night at home.