Romantic tension has always played a part in the xx’s music. A little over four years since their last album, the group’s latest work, I See You, addresses this subject more directly than ever, with a soul-bearing collection of songs about reconciliation and the start of something new.
The xx’s form of downtempo, electronic rock has become a perennial standard against which many other artists have been judged by so far this decade. The xx’s self-titled debut album was the perfect companion to midnight journeys home from the city to the suburbs: quiet and calm, yet resonating with emotion that said so much in so few words and musical phrases. That album was also a snapshot of a trio (and erstwhile member, Baria Qureshi) figuring out the chemistry between them.
By contrast, I See You, is the work of friends who have grown up, moved away from one another to do their own thing, and reunited again. And it feels that way. The group’s quiet, proficient producer, Jamie xx, stepped out with his own album in 2015, In Colour, which was a fusion of styles, from steel pan music to dubstep. In Colour was heavily influenced by Jamie xx’s growing acclaim as a DJ, and it’s a gift for discerning ravers. You can feel that same influence at work on tracks such as ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Hold On’.
These up-tempo dance tracks work in isolation, but, sat beside the heart-rendering emotion that is the real draw of I See You, they add a strange juxtaposition that feels distracting. The romantic interplay between bandmates and singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim are the album’s standout moments, prompting thoughts of regret (‘A Violent Noise’), steeling yourself for the moment when you fly or fall when telling your crush how you feeling about them (‘I Dare You’), and full-on tears as Madley Croft lays her heart bare on ‘Performance’.
I See You is The xx at their most honest yet. It feels like the work of three personalities that have grown in different directions since 2009’s xx. The irrepressible allure of that first album isn’t achieved with the alternative blend the band has put together here, but that won’t stop you being swept sideways by the emotion.
I See You is out now on Young Turks Recordings.
Image: Laura Coulson