The xx are not what they used to be. Meeting at the Elliot School, an academy in London which is also home to electronic artists like Hot Chip, Four Tet, and Burial, The xx were the most underground of the group. They weren’t as grime-influenced as Burial, but there was a certain lack of brightness to their music.
Their debut self-titled record felt like the soundtrack to the end of a party, with Jamie xx’s intricately soft production and Romy and Oliver’s whispery yet intimate vocals. Tracks such as “VCR” and “Crystalized” were like little secrets that the band was sharing with you and it felt incredibly personal, despite the seemingly unenthused nature of the vocals, which to me only added to the intimate feeling of the record and less to the sense of apprehension.
The xx’s second record Coexist focused more on the vocals and the songwriting aspect of their music, which subsequently meant that Jamie had a smaller role. Ultimately, the record ended up being a lot brighter, and not just because of the album cover, and the lack of Jamie’s mesmerizing drum programming from their self-titled debut greatly hindered its success.
Releasing his own solo record In Colour in 2015, Jamie stated that the next xx record was going to be highly influenced from the same sound, prompting a possible large presence of Jamie’s production on another xx record, because to me, Coexist was more of Romy and Oliver’s record than it was Jamie’s. That first record showed how well they could all work together, but Coexist and In Colour showed how they each had progressed. The culmination of it all was well over due.
Jamie’s presence is clear right off the bat with “Dangerous,” bringing back that card-shuffling sound of his production style, now mixed with the brighter and more sample-driven sound of In Colour. Altogether I See You is their most expansive feeling record yet, especially noticeable with songs like “Say Something Loving,” which isn’t written any larger than “Heart Skipped A Beat” from their debut record, but feels more wide and open.
There are a lot more songs here that I enjoyed than on Coexist, but I See You is even brighter than before, and that’s something that I’m still not used to from The xx. I loved the feeling of their first record, like as if I had made a new friend at some edgy London house party and we shared personal stories all night. I See You is more, dare I say, “radio friendly.” Now, they’re really trying. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the reason or setting in which I enjoy the music of The xx.