We’re only a month in but 2017 has already been filled with albums from some elite artists. The trend continues as The xx joins the party with their third studio album entitled I See You. The familiar artwork followed by some unfamiliar sounds make for an interesting listen, but will they manage to improve on their second album which struggled to match expectations?
For many musicians, the third album is seen as being cursed. When you receive such critical acclaim for a first it can set an unrealistic precedent. This is a group who single-handedly took over the world with their influential debut release and the pressure to stay true to their roots must be immense. This does not appear to have phased the group, however, who step into new territory right from the start with their opener Dangerous. The main difference setting this project apart from the two that proceeded is the way that they have embraced samples and audio, avoiding limiting themselves to sounds that can only be triggered live. This is very apparent here, echoing Jamie xx’s love for dance music, it sounds much less like a three piece band. The horn section brings a much-needed ray of sunshine to what can often be a much duller palette, creating a vibe not dissimilar to his unforgettable 2011 track Far Nearer. The clever drums skip along in a Four Tet-like fashion, this one will dominate 2017’s festivals but the pairing with the vocal lets it down.
Onto Say Something Loving and there is already more similarities with their traditional style, still a few shades brighter than you may expect but the indie / R&B crossover is a match made in heaven; topped with some angelic vocals from both singers. Lips follows and is more of a nod towards hip-hop than pop; the tuned wooden percussion decorates an unbelievably evocative arrangement. More ethereal vocal effects fill the gaps, submerging the track even deeper.
The pace drops slightly as you are eased into the stunning Performance after the softer A Violent Noise, both leave enough room for the album’s best songwriting so far. Performance is another moment that is full of emotion with it’s sombre, isolated vocals nestled in between distant guitar plucks. Jamie’s soundscape that accompanies this wonderful piece is a work of art in its own right, this is definitely The xx on top form. Replica has a distinctly 80’s pop influence and bridges the gap cleverly into the somehow futuristic-retro vibe of Brave For You. Tom rolls to rival any Phil Collins ballad, classic subtle guitar picks and heaps of reverb create another masterpiece.
So far, their new direction has not been as blatant as it seemed on the first track. By track 8, On Hold, we hear another hint of the dance floor. It is another decent track but does little to excite and once again, the vocal doesn’t quite marry with the beat as well as it has previously. I Dare You is a much stronger song overall, with a wisely chosen sing-along section to get stuck in everyone’s heads. This is more vintage xx but when it works this well, you can’t blame them for recycling old ideas. When executed this well, it’s clear to see why these guys are so popular. Test Me is the perfect choice to round off the album, as it’s much more avant-garde than the rest but as a closing chapter, it does its job.
As impressive as Jamie’s work has been on this album, there is no denying that Madley Croft and Sim have also developed over the years, blossoming into much more thoughtful performers. Their shy, restrained delivery has almost become their trademark, alongside their brutally honest and vulnerable lyrical content. This release has embodied everything that The xx has stood for. Without being stuck in the past or moving forward too quickly, they are managing to prove their worth with another astounding release.