Hi everyone. K-thony Dot-Tano here. The internet’s laziest music nerd. And it’s time for a review of the new The xx album, “I See You.”
The xx is a British electronic/indie-dream pop trio of singers and multi-instrumentalists Romy and Oliver Sim and producer Jamie xx. And from listening to this long-awaited record from the group, I’ve realized how fruitful a Jamie xx solo career could be and how he may just be wasting his time with his vocalists.
The most recent release from any of the group members was Jamie’s groundbreaking 2015 album “In Colour.” The record contrasted moments of ethereality (which included vocals from Sim and Romy) with singles that lit up the charts with their addictive hooks and club beats. It culminated in what is currently Jamie xx’s flagship record and, by far, the greatest release ever to come out of the group. It’s his work in growing UK Bass that ensures his recognition as one of the most prophetic phenoms the genre has ever seen. Let this also be a warning that I will routinely refer back to this record throughout this review because almost the entirety of my expectations for this album were based around my impression of “In Colour.”
But, as for “I See You” I can’t truly say that this record lived up to the expectations I had set for it. The xx started off in 2009 with their album “xx” and this helped in creating an identity for the group and shattering the electronic music world. Their follow up album, “Coexist,” was not as critically acclaimed as their debut and I wasn’t much of a fan of it either, but they were at least sticking to their roots which made them popular in the first place.
The prominence of Dream Pop had faded since the ever-classic release of “Ágætis byrjun” by Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós. “I See You” is not a Sigur Rós record in the slightest.
I was lured into a false sense of security with the dramatic horns, bass line and glitchy sampler drum pattern. The song “Sleep Sound” off of Jamie’s solo record immediately came to mind and I thought instantly that this album would be an amazing opportunity for the band to experiment with some sonic reinvention.
I was wrong.
After the excitement from the song faded, I was left with the highly-emotional and dreary “Say Something Loving,” and from that song on, until the track “Replica” came on, I was woefully underwhelmed. This beat-less section of tracks feels like a collection of interludes and it runs far too long. The upbeat sequences of the first track left with me feeling enlivened but then, for the next 15 minutes, I have to face this emotional comedown that feels so carelessly executed. Sure, the tracks feature lyrics which add themes of anxiety and heartbreak to the record. But if a song’s musical contents are so wearisome that the listener needs to look to the lyrics for solace, the record is in bad shape and this seems to be the case here. An album supported by a foundation of emotion should draw its listeners into that emotion, but I’m instead left with this feeling of indifference and even blasé.
My confidence in this album was brought back by “Replica,” a song about trying to avoid falling into this cycle of failed relationships Sim and Romy have witnessed from the outside. The instrumentation of mid-tempo kick-snare drum patterns and quickly plucked electric guitars is captivating enough that the theme of the song sticks out pretty strongly. And this helps the transition to the next track “Brave For You,” a song which complements not only the lyrical meaning of the previous track but also helps lead into the instrumental structure of the next song on the record, the one I was most excited by upon first listen months prior to the album’s release.
“On Hold” is the easily-identifiable peak of the album for its catchy instrumentation, synths and, of course, the Hall and Oates sample that helps anchor the track. The album picks up momentum again and, with the final two tracks, I feel a little satisfaction. But the middle section just feels like such a halt in an otherwise decent record.
I had such high expectations for this album but I can’t say it truly fulfilled those. There’s a potency to some of the lyrics and production on this record, but not enough that the album’s cohesiveness is solid as a good concept album should be like. I just don’t hear it here. That being said, “xx” and “In Colour” are tough acts to follow and it was at least refreshing to hear the atmospheric side of Jamie xx again. I believe that given the critical reception, mine included, of Jamie xx’s solo work, I can see a pretty bright future for him. I’m not so sure about Oliver Sim and Romy though.