The Daily Gamecock

Review: The xx goes haunting and personal with 'I See You'

Album: "I See You"

Release Date: Jan. 13

Label: Young Turks Recordings

Rating: B-

The xx has benefited from a no-nonsense formula that has helped them thrive over the past decade. Bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley Croft have always lifted Jamie Smith’s production with lovely duets about heavier subjects like love, heartbreak and personal growth. Now after a prolonged period of touring and working on side projects, the three have reconvened in the studio to record “I See You,” their first album since 2012’s “Coexist.”

With a growth in stature during the group’s studio hibernation, The xx seem like they are ready to break beyond the moody, dark techno beats that have built their reputation. In "I See You," they keep the same basic formula but adopt a more tender message.

Love and relationships — both romantic and casual — are the hallmarks of The xx’s repertoire. Even though these themes can become stale, Smith’s layered style of production really elevates the haunting dual-vocal tracks. Sims and Croft connect with these themes as they sing different lyrics simultaneously or even while they harmonize together. This approach adds complexity to the familiar themes initially being vocalized. 

Sims and Croft are also masters on their respective instruments, which cut through Smith’s crafty productional sound to bring distinct, yet chaotic melodies to the album.

As an overall production-heavy album, the music combines well with the personal nature of the songs. However the opening track, “Dangerous,” shows horns that blast with a little too much enthusiasm. Grand orchestra patterns blanket the lyrics’ personal pleas in “Say Something Loving,” as well. It’s hard not to associate “I See You” with fellow electronic pop trio alt-J’s latest effort “This Is All Yours.”

This album strikes as personal, yet dangles with enough reservations that there seems to be an opening for full maturation. For example, “Replica” tells of the cycles of mistakes that people constantly make. A glimmer of hope comes from singer Croft’s personal darkness in the track “Brave For You.” Here, she confronts the aftermath of her parents' deaths nearly 10 years apart from each other. She tells of the courage she will have going forward, which will only illuminate her path in the wake of life.

I would give “I See You” a B- rating. The album is a fitting chapter to The xx’s message of how we seem to face different iterations of the same problems throughout our lives. For those who were starved for more of the trio’s haunting sound, it will surely fill you up. They add just enough to qualify their growth, but still feel rooted to where they once were. The xx has a deep perspective of everything that has happened to them and seem ready to take on an unknown future that will eventually become a haunting present for them and everyone else.