by Justin Trudell
(Check out our Twitter thoughts during our First Listen)
The process for the newest album by The XX, I See You, can be traced back to 2015 when Jamie XX’s solo effort, In Colour, was nominated for the Mercury Prize. The XX have since admitted that In Colour’s success inspired them to write the trio’s latest project.
It’s not as though Jamie ditched his band mates while working on his solo project. In fact, he collaborated with Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim to create the unforgettable “Loud Places”. Unsurprisingly, tracks like “Loud Places”, and “SeeSaw” were a precursor to what I See You would become.
I See You doesn’t dive headfirst into a new territory. Instead, it swims slowly and confidently into the deep end of unfamiliar waters with proven and trusted friends acting as metaphorical life vests. Sure it’s different and potentially challenging, but with unwavering support from your mates nothing is impossible. Oliver and Romy’s smoldering vocals are accompanied by their minimalistic instrumentals and are snuggly wrapped in Jamie’s trancey beats.
This album brilliantly captures The XX’s subtle and effective evolution. It’s not a 180 from their first two albums. They found a fork in the road and chose the path to more emotionally uplifting music and lyrics. They still stay true to their atmospheric tone. None of group’s identity was compromised by the added thump and synthesized beats from rhythm section mastermind Jamie Smith.
I See You is the best album The XX have ever made, sounding both familiar and experimental. It plays into the strengths of all three individuals uniting as gifted musicians to produce a masterpiece.
The aforementioned evolution of The XX is perfectly captured on this track. Romy’s intimate, breathy lyrics are backed by a subtle and extremely catchy beat from Jamie. In true XX fashion, Oliver joins in for the chorus and takes over the second verse. This has been on repeat since the album dropped.
A really interesting song from Oliver about how he’s becoming just like his parents no matter what he does, and that’s not a bad thing. The lyrics ask: “Do we watch and repeat?”
Nature vs. nurture. Are we made to be like our parents, or do we learn from their behavior? The track’s minimal instrumental progressions and hypnotic beat lay the foundation, while Oliver and Romy harmoniously construct the top layers.
I Dare You
Rarely do we associate The XX with anthems—but this is legit! Perhaps the idea of filling larger venues with a bigger sound was the genesis of “I Dare You”. It also showcases a much brighter side of The XX. Romy sings about feeling a different kind of high, needing her “feelings set on fire”. Still emotionally charged, but with joy and optimism, rather than despair and heartbreak. A semi-new direction for The XX, and they manage it exceptionally.