I See You
by Bryce Browning
Think about your favorite artist for a second. Now think about why you love them so much. How would you describe what makes them stand out? I believe a distinct and unforgettable sound is what makes an artist or band stand the test of time. Think through the history of music, and it’s the artists that bend the boundaries of their genre that become immortalized.
Nearly 8 years since the group's fantastic debut, The xx has created music that blends the lines between electronic and indie rock, causing their style to become the soundtrack to today’s wave of hipsters. It’s Romy’s stark guitar playing and haunting vocal delivery, Oliver Sim’s perfect vocal response to Romy’s call, and Jamie xx’s masterful production that’s created a sound many artists emulate — but can’t quite duplicate. On The xx’s third project I See You, the group has added another great piece to what’s becoming an impressive catalog of music.
In 2009, The xx blindsided the musical world with a fresh new sound on their self-titled debut. Their debut lives in lore by being ranked in NME’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time, an incredibly impressive feat for an album that isn’t even a decade old.
It may seem premature to throw all these accolades at an artist so soon, but if you look at the landscape of electronic music today, you can hear Jamie xx’s production style in its veins. Listen to The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” or to Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches,” and then go back through The xx or Jamie xx’s respective catalogs — you can clearly hear the resemblance and influence. The xx (and Jamie’s solo work) to this point in their careers has become the staple and standard of today’s indie and electronic music.
I See You is an album that builds up, both metaphorically and sonically. Metaphorically because their debut album was minimalistic and melancholy, then their follow-up Coexist added more melodic composition, followed by Jamie xx’s solo album In Colour which was full of dance beats; I See You is the trio's next evolution, adding more dance beats to their sonic dissonance. Sonically, the album builds up as you listen. The album begins with “Dangerous,” a dancy, horn-filled track with an upbeat vibe that you really don’t hear again until the final 3 tracks on the album (“On Hold,” “I Dare You” and “Test Me”) close the album with a bang. Really, the best part of this album is the way it ends, giving the listener a fantastic sense of accomplishment, as the closing songs (especially the standout “On Hold”) are examples of peak potential for The xx.
The flaws this album exhibits is the lacking and uninspiring mid-portion of the album; it honestly feels like throwaway tracks from In Colour that Romy amd Oliver were rushed to write lyrics for. On the whole, the album — especially on the song “A Violent Noise” — gets way too comfortable using clichés from past songwriting. As much as I’m a fan of the group and their sound, these errors cannot be overlooked when considering the quality of the album.
Overall, I See You is an album that has several standouts that will undoubtedly become live staples throughout the remainder of The xx’s career, but ultimately will be an album with little importance to its time. Give this album a listen and enjoy if you are a fan, and if you’ve never heard of The xx — you should listen to their earlier albums first to truly appreciate this project.
Song You Need To Hear: "On Hold"