Crisp, relatable lyrics against a gloomy, simplistic beat has been the making of much of The XX’s commercial success. Nearly five years on from sophomore offering Coexist, it seems that they have channelled Jamie XX’s creative genius to shed themselves in new light on new release, I See You. One had to wonder whether The XX had plateaued sonically after Coexist. Although the album was a success, there was a nagging, one-dimensional element in that the album was vicarious for what was a more troubled time in the group’s existence. The general consensus was that such a melancholy approach may wear thin, but I See You breathes new life into The XX, who have put their foot on the gas whilst keeping their unique, haunting melodies intact.
Horns kick off to generate a playful mood for the opener, ‘Dangerous’. “You are dangerous but I don’t care/ I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared” describes a carefree approach to something like a relationship. Whimsical lyrics against a skidding, bouncing beat works amazingly well to create a tune that will be stuck in your head for days. A similar theme is present in ‘Lips’, but more sensual lyrics give the song a sexier, sultry quality. There is a genius to the chorus of this song, in that the beat speaks to you. The sharp, synthesised rise and fall creates an oh, oh-oh, followed by “I don’t wanna know the way down”, another melodic interlude, and then “I just want it all, I just want it all”. High pitched backing vocals really set this song alight and should provide ample cause for the track to be released as a single, simply so the masses can appreciate The XX at their most innovative and creative.
A prevalent theme in this album, and in nearly all of The XX’s work, is that each song has quite a distinct, personal message. ‘Replica’ seems to touch on the worries of becoming a product of a dysfunctional environment, and ‘Say Something Loving’ is a poetic take on the insecurities that arise whilst in a relationship. “Here come my insecurities/ I almost expected you to leave’” and “Am I too needy/ Am I too eager?’ are examples of the inner dialogue that is born out of said insecurities, and further cement the humanistic side to The XX’s music that their fans have grown to love.
It’s fair to say that Romy Madley Croft takes care –and rightly so – of the group’s more moving tracks. Her vocal range is simply the best fit, and the wider, emotional spectrum that the tonality of her voice allows for works well on tracks such as ‘Performance’, ‘Test Me’ and ‘Brave For You’. These stand out in the sense that they don’t really possess an ability to make you tap your feet, and because of their more personal nature, you get the feeling that these songs are an ode to the life of Croft. There is nothing wrong with this; all three records are extremely touching, finding Croft at her most potent and poignant. ‘Performance’ details how a painted smile can mask true feelings, and touches on the importance of ‘performing’ in her life – both personally and professionally. The beautiful ‘Brave For You’ is an incredibly raw, slow winding and honest take on her everyday fears, and how she chooses to deal with them. “And when I’m scared/ I imagine you’re there/ telling me to be brave for you” details how she channels the positivity of loved ones, past and present, as a coping mechanism.
‘I Dare You’ maintains a quickened pace throughout, emphasising a more ballsy approach to newfound relationships and all of the worries that come with them, exemplified by lyrics such as “I’ve been a romantic for so long/ all I’ve ever heard are love songs”. ‘A Violent Noise‘ is Jamie XX the producer at his best, with addictive vocals laid against an ever changing bassline, showcasing his skills on a sonic playground of a track that is tranquil, lyrical and euphoric all at once.
A strength of this album is the variation in song choice and structure, which allows for an easy listening experience with highs and lows throughout. A good album can make you feel a range of emotions – I See You does exactly that. In simple terms, there is a good mixture of the sombre and sprightly. However, to view this album in such minimalistic terms would be doing it a huge disservice. Hit single, ‘On Hold’ is the type of song that can turn you into a dancer or a downer, depending on your mood. It’s a song that will be played in clubs around the world, but felt differently by everybody who hears it. Picture one person mindlessly grooving to the upbeat nature of the song, whilst somebody else introspectively evaluates their reason for being drunk, in a club, on a Wednesday night.
I See You demonstrates a maturity in The XX’s music, but it also indicates self-acceptance – both collectively, and individually. You get the feeling that this album is an audible expression of growing comfortable in your own skin – something that everybody has trouble acclimatising to in one way or another. It’s the optimistic honesty in this album that will gain them many new fans; it is what makes their music so relevant and likeable. The XX represents the introvert who is trying to make sense of a world full of extroverts. After all, isn’t that all of us?