The xx Sees You

Something is in the water, and that something is helping musicians makes some echo-ringing sad pop albums. James Blake, Bon Iver, and even Frank Ocean did it. Now, The xx joins their ranks with I See You. The trio’s latest album is a collection of mellow, glacial pop ballads that focus on the ins and outs of love. In other words, The xx stays close to their roots. That said, the band does well to incorporate every element of their sound to create songs that linger.

I See You begins with the song “Dangerous.” It is an uptempo blend of Janet Jackson-esque RnB with the group’s trademark aloof lyrical delivery. The combination gives “Dangerous” that genre-defining sound that made The xx a large influence over the past decade or so. “Dangerous” acts perfectly as an opener to the album. Not only are its grooves infectious, but its lyrics, with their abstract relationship paranoia, their us against them posturing, do well to create an atmosphere of a relationship gone sour.

And the album lives mostly in the realm of a relationship falling apart. From start to finish, I See You iterates then reiterates the pantomime some go through as things go south. Lyrically, the album exists somewhere between the intimate space of one’s thoughts and the awkward insecurities exchanged between lovers on the outs. The ability for The xx to occupy this liminal space with such power gives I See You a strange tension.

And this tension is most palpable in “Performance.” The song sits squarely between Everything But The Girl and Kate Bush. It’s dramatic description of the cliche of “putting on a brave face” is personal and invested. “Performance” is a far cry from the apathetic lyrical delivery of The xx’s first album. But its drama, its strength, could also be considered the band’s biggest misstep.

While I See You stays hooked to and in part gets strength from the playing and replaying of a failing relationship, the album teeters incredibly close to being melodramatic. Throughout the album, moments, lyrical and instrumental, become overblown and may turn those of us without much empathy for abstract depression off. That said, complaining that an album designed to be full of pathos is, in fact, full of pathos is like complaining a novel has a ton of words that stretch margin to margin.

The album ends with “Test Me”–a truly melancholy ballad that shows the band’s ability to craft speakers with incredible self-awareness. The glacially paced song concludes I See You perfectly. That The xx are able to craft subtle and muted songs that weave into a subtle and muted album shows the band have pushed beyond their beginnings. Stylistically, I See You isn’t far removed from their self-titled debut, but structurally, the album is far more nuanced and complex than anything this trio has put out previously.

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