The xx “I See You” Review

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The xx are back, with a more diverse sound from their suddenly-famous DJ.

It’s safe to say that The xx’s success took everyone by surprise. The band’s blend of dream-pop and minimalistic indie took to the airwaves in the very late aughts and took both England and America by storm. In hindsight, it looks like they were following a trend of indie bands growing increasingly simple – either loud or soft. I distinctly remember “Crystallized” being on the radio the same time as Band of Skulls’ ultra-basic (but great) “I Know What I Am.” They represented the logical culmination of a trend. And again in hindsight, they kind of were; in an ugly political ocean, indie rock has gone pretty underwater over the past couple years.

So it makes sense that their return to the forefront would be an effort like “I See You,” a more diverse record. It also helps that their DJ, Jamie xx, struck gold in 2015 with his album “In Colour.” The album’s diverse sound comes solely from him. While he wasn’t a huge factor in the band’s first two albums, he creates the backbone of practically every track on this release.

The xx have never been an enthralling band; truth be told their first two albums bored me to sleep. But the album’s first single, “On Hold,” is one of their most upfront songs. Centered around a Hall & Oates bit, it’s a late-album kick that the band isn’t necessarily used to. They did this song on SNL, but it honestly sounds better on the album. There’s a bit of energy at points, that’s a much-needed kick. On “Lips,” Jamie xx provides a backing beat that sounds more worldly than the band is used to; and although “A Violent Noise” isn’t a particularly interesting track, his music does save it from being forgettable.

Elsewhere, it’s worth noting that Romy Madley Croft’s vocals are excellent. Not to slander Oliver Sim, but her vocals have overpowered his. She sounds forceful, which works against music that is usually apprehensive. She gets one showcase, on a song coincidentally called “Performance.” She sounds great throughout, also on opener “Dangerous.”

The one thing that the album lacks a real band cohesion. Like their previous albums, it seems like ideas stitched together from each member, and not necessarily a full band effort. The two best examples of cohesion come late, in “Brave For You” and “I Dare You.” In the former, the singers mix some of their better lyrics with a great bass breakdown, which results in a song more formed than initially realized. The latter features some of the only harmonizing between both singers, something that is longed for throughout the album.

Still, the band plays to their new strengths, and in a new indie climate, add some appropriate outside influences to the mix. It is certainly a notable release into their canon, and a good way to enter 2017. Judging by the oncoming year, it might not go down as a 2017 classic, but it’s a welcome and surprising release for a band that needed some retooling for their comeback.

Grade: B+

-By Andrew McNally

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