The xx – I See You

The xx take a confident and assertive step forward on their third album, but run into a few growing pains along the way

Album Review by Alexander Smail | 17 Jan 2017
  • The xx
Album title: I See You
Artist: The xx
Label: Young Turks
Release date: 13 Jan

We opened windows and let some light in,” said Romy Madley Croft of the process recording I See You. The xx are turning a corner. Coming to terms with long-buried grief and reflecting on alcoholism across the album’s brief 39 minutes, the group have never sounded more confident. Their first two albums were minimal and intimate, but here they look outward – and onward.

Instrumentally, too, they’re exploring new territory. That I See You is the group’s most sample-heavy project yet is telling; coming off his 2015 solo debut, Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx and co-producer Rodaidh McDonald inhabit the more stacked arrangements with clean and weightless production.

Lyrically, though, it’s the subtle moments that hit hardest. Replica, in which the group turn away the thought of turning into their parents over Oliver Sim’s soothing bassline, drifts gently into Brave For You where Madley Croft finally comes to terms with losing her own. Sim too confronts his own demons, wistfully asking himself 'Am I too high? Am I too proud?' as he looks back on his history with alcohol on A Violent Noise. It’s these moments of sober reflection that form the emotional crux of the album.

As for what lies ahead the group are more skittish, offering possibilities rather than any definitive answer. Bittersweet Hall and Oates-sampling Hold On treads water for almost four minutes waiting for a climax that never arrives, while sentimental Performance aims for poignant but lands closer to maudlin – with only Madley Croft’s affecting vocals saving the track from creeping into cliché. The xx are moving forward, but they don’t know quite where they’re headed.

Listen to: Replica, Lips