When your first album is a sweeping success, how do you move forward and create something that both steps away from your past hits yet strikes the same sort of resonance with your painstakingly huge fan base? This seems to be the question that plagued the ever-huge The xxon their sophomore album–while new tunes from these indie rock darlings immediately grabbed my attention and affection, these feelings didn’t bring me back to continued listening. Third time around, it seems like these South Londoner’s have shaken off the chains of their past catalogue and pushed into exciting new space.
With I See You there is a key caveat–to really dig into the songs, you need to be willing to accept the pop simplicity that the band has tried their hand at this go-round. Before, it sounded as though the band made their own sound, which shaped and happened to appeal to pop listeners, but here they’ve put their own spin on pop music itself. On this album, the tight and intricate guitar-work that first drew in early fans has been supplemented with sampling, and more synth breakdowns. However, for The xx, this feels like a natural and logical progression.
The band launches straight in with dance-ready opener “Dangerous” with sampled horn sounds. You’re rooted to the track by the prevalent bass line, pulled closer by the ever-enticing male/female tradeoff in vocals that this group has always excelled at. These vocals are punchier than you’ve heard them before; more commanding and compelling. This grip that The xx puts on you holds strong through the first four songs. Single, “Say Something Loving,” isone of the superstars of the album, again the vocals are demanding and so strong, begging you to scream along with them. The samples are integrated with the vocals seamlessly, hitting you ears with ease and not distraction.
Later on you get tunes like “Replica,” and “I Dare You,” which rely on the bands’ knack for sleek guitar riffs. “Replica” is a simmering dark track with shimmering interludes of lightness. This song may not hit you hard with immediacy on your first spin of the record, but provides a less obvious treat for the next listen with its detailed lyrics. On the contrary, there’s “I Dare You,” which stomps into the penultimate and will immediately jump into your favorite track place. The percussion on this song is a steady beat of what sounds like sampled handclaps, which puts a dance-rythym immediately into play. Those sleek guitars mirror the vocal melody, playing into the pop aesthetic, an the result is pure bliss.
Overall, I See You is a bright and bold move for The xx, striking an easy-listenable balance between intricate and simple–offering hooks for your first listen and subtleties that will hold your attention and have you coming back for more. Like the ‘new love’ high that a lot of the lyrics touch upon, you want to stay with I See You for the long haul; “don’t let it slip away.”