Ever since Jamie XX’s forays into the solo artist realm, it’s always felt a bit like his old band mates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim have been all but forgotten. Although Madley-Croft did feature on two of In Colour’s best tracks “See Saw” and “Loud Places” providing the best indication of what a new XX album would sound like. Now the rekindling of the power trio is complete and almost five years after their second effort Coexist, we are handed the highly anticipated third, I See You.
What made the band so great in their Mercury Prize-winning days was an unmistakably original sound, where guitars soared in vast chasms of reverb, grounded by fragile duel vocals that breathed down your neck in ultra-close proximity. In essence, their debut was a game-changer – borrowing minimal R&B beats and redefining the well-trodden landscape of indie pop. Coexist was even more ghostly and overwhelmingly emotive, yet never really showed what else the three musicians were capable of. Gladly, I See You veers off in a new direction altogether. The album combines Jamie XX’s new found glory as an eclectic selector, sampling various 80s pop and capturing otherwise disparate moods into tightly knit grooves. Add Madley-Croft and Sim to the mix and you’re left with some very interesting results.
“Dangerous” introduces us to The XX’s bright new world with a grand horn section, that cuts straight to Sim’s bumbling bassline and signature, relaxed vocals. It’s upbeat in way that we’ve never heard the band before, confidently charging into new turf with Jamie XX’s fidgeting, electronic beat-work at the helm. ‘Say Something Loving’ swoons in like a bright, majestic ballad that chugs along to perfectly timed sample of Alessi Brothers’ “Do You Feel It.” Some parts of the album feel rooted in the bands past, something for the fans who’ve been there from the start of the journey “Performance” being one of those sparse, naked moments when the vale is lifted on human insecurities. “Replica” has all the hallmarks of a great XX tune and some, “They say I will become a replica” sing the vocalists in unison as a steel drum sample slips into view, triggering the kind of simple, genius guitar licks that we’ve all come to expect from the band.
“On Hold” is by far one of The XX’s best tracks to date, signaling their return to form in one big warm, affectionate grasp and a Hall and Oats sample that means it’ll never be far from a dance floor. Closing with ‘Test Me” is most definitely a reference to Jamie XX’s massive influence of I See You, contorting into one of his spacious euphoric atmospheres.
The XX will always be a band that are in some ways confined to “their” sound, but I See You is an album that pushes them forward into interesting areas and only looks back with admiration.