The XX - I See You

by Ylenia Schardt

British indie pop band The XX have not disappointed with their new debut. Released on the 13th of January, I See You is bold, innovate, and different; the album strays into new territory and explores an unheard side of the London electropop group. Not a complete departure, but an evolution.

The record somehow sounds exactly like The XX while sounding nothing like them at all. The music contains mementos and reminders of the iconic sound we have come to know and love, but bandmembers Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith – who wrote and composed the album – have turned the music on its head.

The album starts of with Dangerous, a song louder and more ambitious than any other XX track I can think of. The song is an anthem. It blares, it stays with you, it is a declaration by the band: we are back and better than ever. Everything about the track is big and brave, from the attention-grabbing trumpet to the catchy kick-snare beat. Instrumentally different from previous songs, Dangerous is fanfare; the song is both a welcome back and an introduction for what is to come. The first track on I See You may well be appropriately named; it is always dangerous for a band to tread on new waters, but for The XX, the risk has paid off. The opening song sets the tone for the remainder of the record.

Up next is Say Something Loving, a song that reminisces about the dreamy tension and sweet trepidation of a new romance. Croft and Sim sing back and forth between them as if in a conversation; they overthink the desires, complications, and fear that often comes with love. She nervously sings, “Your touch stays on my skin / I feel it start sinking in / Here come my insecurities / I almost expect you to leave”, while he captures a feeling we have all felt at some point or another, he wonders, “Am I too needy, am I too eager?”. Croft’s airy vocals possess a depth and strength that resonates. Her voice acts as the perfect contrast to Sim’s kind and down-to-earth voice.

The following song progresses from the innocence and nervousness of Say Something Loving. The track advances to the next step of a relationship: Lips is angsty, moody, and sexy. The song begins with a vocal intro high and operatic. Gone is the fear present in Say Something Loving, Croft and Sim sing Lips with confidence and desire; in their words, they “just want it all”. The song is raw and honest; it reminds us of our humanness, of our instincts and of our deepest desires.

Next up, A Violent Noise, is a little bit more generic. The song sounds like a club track that never finds its drop. A Violent Noise builds and builds and builds, only to disappoint with an underwhelming synth riff solo. Performance, the following song on the album, reminds me the most of The XX of the past; it is minimalistic and simple, but manages to speak volumes. Croft’s voice connects so well with her audience. Listening to Performance, it almost feels like I am hearing Croft sing this ballad live. Pairing Croft’s powerful vocals with a melancholy guitar riff is something that has always and will always, it seems, work well for The XX.

The next song, Replica, is possibly my favourite on the album. The track contemplates the search for originality and the tiredness that comes with repetition; he contemplates, “Do I watch and repeat?” In essence, Replica’s concern is with the pressure to produce a product as a band, and whether that product feels like a song that has ‘already been sung’, in the words of the group. The guitar riff, the synth, and the background shuffle make the song atmospheric.

Although the album’s lead single, On Hold, is not my favourite, it doesn’t have to be, because the album is packed full with single-worthy songs. With I See You, The XX have taken a risk that has paid off; the band has shown their musical depth, skill, and variety.