British indie electronic band the xx releases intimate third album
THE SANTA CLARA
January 19, 2017
Since their self-titled album debuted in 2009, south London-based trio the xx has been all about intimacy—not just in their lyrics, but also in the close friendships they share with each other. On their newest album “I See You,” the xx deepen their lyrical intimacy even further, and as a result, the band raises the stakes musically and personally to greater heights.
The album opens with blaring trumpets on “Dangerous,” a move unlike the atmospheric pop heard from the xx previously. It even had me wondering if I was listening to the right album, but it’s a clear message to the listener that this is a revitalized band ready to move outside their formerly defined comfort zone of dream pop.
The next track, “Say Something Loving,” released on Jan. 1 as a single, is where we first hear the vulnerable intimacy that comes with a maturing band. As Romy Madley Croft, vocalist and main guitarist, and Oliver Sim sing together in the first chorus, “You say something loving / It’s so overwhelming, the thrill of affection / Feels so unfamiliar.”
The feeling of affection and opening up is definitely something of unfamiliarity with all band members. In an interview with Pitchfork magazine, they talked about the communication issues that often arise within the band as a result of their introverted personalities, as well as the intense personal connections they have with each other, which unfortunately allows criticisms to cut deeply. Madley Croft and Sim have known each other since they were toddlers and Jamie Smith—who has also made a name for himself through his solo act Jamie xx—joined the group at age 11.
In the third chorus, the song transitions to a different tone: “I say something loving / All my hesitations are fading, fading / I feel it taking over.” Although the feeling of accepting love is hard for all of them, it is something they’re learning to embrace, albeit slowly.
“On Hold” sounds like it could be a bonus song on Jamie xx’s 2015 solo album “In Colour,” with the signature way Jamie xx layers tropical beats. It was released as the first single from the album on Nov. 10, which personally had me excited to hear the influence of his sound since going solo on the xx’s new production.
However, don’t listen to “I See You” expecting a repeat of “In Colour.” This album proves successful in the way that it incorporates the strengths of each member—from the way Madley Croft can create guitar sequences that reflect the emotion of the song, to Sim’s ability to convey the feelings of heartbreak in the lyrics, and Smith’s slow, thought out beats, which are the glue to every song.
The xx ends the album the same way they did with their 2012 sophomore album, “Coexist”—with a song about the internal dynamics of the band.
“Test Me,” however, serves them a different purpose altogether. Madley Croft first performed it for her bandmates with her back to them, fearing the intimacy but also allowing herself to open up about these feelings and embrace them as an opportunity to learn. She sings, “Just take it out on me / It’s easier than saying what you mean / Test me, see if I break,” showing a newfound strength.
The band members explored new territory on “I See You,” ditching their old rule that all songs had to be playable live and brought in a fair amount of sampling. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable with each other and susceptible to the consequences of that vulnerability, resulting in a brave new sound. Overall, the xx’s third album shows a wider scope in lyrical topics and vocal range than the first two, which results in a more varied and mature sound.
Contact Lindsay Tenes at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.