The xx return with an album that recaptures their light. ‘I See You’ combines familiar elements associated with their sound and aesthetic with festival friendly hooks without losing substance. A very “of the moment ” pop record with ambitious musical experimentation that The xx willingly imposed upon themselves. Moving out of their comfort zone has reinvigorated their sound. The have crafted a dance record for all the “wallflowers” to enjoy. The usher in our album of the month series for 2017.
I See You
by The xx
Young Turks (2017)
Madley Croft (vocals, guitar), Oliver Sim (vocals bass), Jamie xx (producer, beats,synths) are thick as thieves childhood friends who started a band and quickly ascended to indie royalty. Their landmark often imitated never duplicated self titled debut positively startled and delighted U.K. critics. The xx combined subtle minimalist guitar riffs, r&b bass melodies, replaced the drums with electronic beats and made sure the music come before anything else. They were barley out of high school still sporting acne.Yet they crafted sophisticated introspective music, with lyrical maturity that made them seem wise beyond their years. Their music struck an emotional cord that was lacking in the cynical ‘too cool for school’ elitist hipster pitchfork endorsed bands. I fell head over heels. The xx were underdogs who had ‘made it’solely on their musical merit. I remember describing them in the following manner. Imagine if Charlie Brown and his gang started a band. There stage presence was statuesque. The in between song banter consisted of: “hi, thank you , thank you again, is it loud enough.” They were criminally polite pale English kids, who were just happy to be playing.
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, when you receive the adulation The xx garnered, you’re lucky if you can find time to breath let alone record a follow up. Their second album Coexist was birth out of despair and obligation. The sessions, subsequent tour, promotion, tainted their light. Numerous factors caused the tepid response. One being that everyone had copped their sound. What no one knew until recently was the inner turmoil within the group. The xx needed space. Space from each other.
I See You might not be the album they wanted to make but it’s the album they needed to make.
The space brought them back. The record is a labor of love that operates in realm of intimacy aiming for connection and healing. Romy and Oliver’s vocals are a singular narrative. They do not sing to each other, but rather sing as one. Lead off single On Hold features their patented back and forth vocal exchange, over Hall and Oats sample. Oliver was privately battling alcohol addiction. When he sings “I thought I had a hold on you” it cuts deeper than I care to share as alcoholism has plagued my family. Oliver had lost himself. He developed deep paranoia and doubt that he was not a part of the group. He questioned his talent and purpose. They came to each other’s aid as they dealt with the tension uncertainty that arose from the past few years. Now sober Oliver speaks of his new outlook and hope for inner stability. I See You might not be the album they wanted to make but it’s the album they needed to make. Romy is in love, announcing her engagement this past week. Some of the most engaging moments within the record belong to her. An underrated vocalist not afraid to show venerability when the note requires it. Her sexuality has unfortunately been fodder for the tabloids. Her understated strength in handling such a frivolous aspect, protected not only her but her partner. Romy lets it lyrically know love is love, no matter how you choose to express it.
Special mention needs to be reserved for Jamie xx. Bare with me, sport anology ahead. There is a tactile position in Futbol know as the holding midfielder. He dictates the pace, pulls the strings, weaves precise passes through a sea of legs. Often overlooked and unappreciated. Best exemplified by Xavi Hernandez of F.C. Barcelona. That sums up Jamie’s’ role within The xx world. On stage and in the studio he conducts. Head down, face shieled by his baseball cap, diligently working in the background caressing the beats that bring it all together. When the vocals fade he evokes melodic ‘space’ to let the lyrics breath. Some producers fear that ‘space.’ Jamie embraces it. Much like one of his idols Jay Dilla, Jamie understands that the silent moments can be just as important as the loud ones. The experienced he gained through numerous performances, behind his two well received solo endeavors, at festivals bear fruit throughout the album. The xx are a headlining band and because of Jamie they finally have headlining music.
The band recently played SNL and much was made about their awkward performance. Romy and Oliver danced around like Chris Penn character from the cheesy but essential classic 80s movie Footloose. Well apparently to some Romy and Oliver made the mistake of just being in the moment. Some outlets reported how cringe worthy the whole spectacle was. Cynicism is a deplorable virtue. As a self professed wall flower I beamed with joy. Fun is not exclusive to the mainstream acts. After a trying 2016, fun sounds enticing. I will be attending Coachella (I was at their 2010 afternoon set that featured the you had to be there moment when JayZ, one of the headliners, appeared on the screen nodding and singing to The xx. The band stopped playing as they were caught off guard by the crowds eruption) and can not wait see their headlining set. You better believe yours truly will be awkwardly dancing with The xx.
Essential tracks : Test Me, On Hold, Lips, Say Something Lovely