The world in which The xx inhabits is often synonymous with just two colours; black and white. Up until now. I See You is the London trio’s third outing, and their first output since 2012’s Coexist, and it’s evident that band producer, Jamie xx’s solo debut LP In Colour has percolated into the fibres of his day job’s most recent offering. This isn’t to say The xx have gone day-glo on us, there’s still plenty of murky soundscapes and shadowy refrains to maintain the group’s penchant for all things monochrome but it’s evident from the opening horn parps on “Dangerous”, I See You leans towards the band embracing dancier influences, especially when you factor in the track’s rubbery basslines and clipped beats. The xx have always championed a sparse sound and I See You maintains this aesthetic but on the likes of “Dangerous” and lead single “On Hold”, their sonic template has expanded from their skeletal beginnings.
While Coexist was incubated in isolation in their London base, I See You was forged over an almost 2-year period across many different locations including New York, LA, Reykjavik, Marfa, Texas and of course, London. Given a longer gestation and the multi-site recording sessions ‘I See You’ has the feeling of an album that’s well travelled, one that’s soaked up different stimuli but it also carries with it a sense of freedom – like a cool breeze.
Introspection is the main ingredient of a release by The xx, notably affairs of the heart are still very much key to the album’s riches but the likes of “A Violent Noise” and “Replica” explore and hint towards bassist/vocalist Oliver Sims’ battle with alcohol addiction. The former is the record’s centre piece; this is a track that swells with spectral guitar lines, skittering beats and surging electronics but the sudden full stops of silence create a pensive calm that grips you by the heart. “How could eyes this wide lose sight of the world outside” purrs Sim with his distinct velvet tones like a man attempting to retrace his steps back to normality. Fellow vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft trades an observant line with Sim’s “You’ve been staying out late trying your best to escape/I hope you find what you’re looking for?” taking up the perspective of a friend watching a loved one unravel. “Replica”’s slow chug delves further into the heart of overindulgence; with a dream like tone Sim and Croft swap lines about the trappings of overdoing the party lifestyle. “25 just like me/Is it in my nature to be stuck on repeat” and “Do I chase the night or does the night chase me?” chronicle a familiar theme and “your mistakes were only chemical” just drives this home.
For all its electronic flourishes I See You is a very human record – thanks to the earthy vocals of Croft and Sim, Jamie Smith (xx to his mates) has managed to take music made by machines and cloak it in human flesh. The record’s tangibility manifests in ‘Brave For You’s resilient undertones. Croft courageously delivers exposed nerve lyrics like “When I’m scared I imagine you there telling me to be brave” and “When things don’t make sense I have courage because of you”. Sonically, “Brave For You” bristles with a nervous energy, flitting from throbbing adrenaline to nothingness powered by chopping up vocal samples and layered electronics. This is a manifesto of taking something negative and turning it inside out whilst being strong for the person you share your life with.
Fragile, confident, vulnerable, enchanting; The xx just keep on perfecting on perfection.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams