I See You: Close, but not a classic

I probably made a bigger deal of I See You before knowing anything about it.

But I didn’t care.

I was ready.

But were the xx?

After teasing for years, after Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim went off as hermits and after Jamie Smith went across the world and back touring the house music scene with his solo debut, In Colour, I wanted to know how Smith’s newfound luscious production would mesh with the trademark minimalism of the xx.

Spoiler alert: it meshes quite well.

From the horns of “Dangerous” to the synthesizers of “Replica,” Smith is on point with his production. He’s even more astute with his samples, borrowing minimalist composer David Lang for the atmosphere of “Lips” and then jump-starting feet with a Hall & Oates sample for “On Hold.”

I See You even mimics the form of Smith’s In Colour, leaving the power duo of “On Hold” and “I Dare You” to the back end. They incorporate the evolution of the English pop indie trio, from the vocal duets hailing to xx, to the muted guitars reminiscent of Coexist and to further still the lush, almost tropical atmosphere of In Colour. “I Dare You” in particular has some of the most involved emotional lyrics of the band’s catalogue:

I get chills/
Heart’s rate multiplies/
I’m on a different kind of high/
A rush of blood is not enough/
I need my feelings set on fire.

Throughout the album, Smith makes the lyrically hot songs scorch fiercely and much of the not-songs singe and pique interest.

It’s indicative of a noticeable musical trend: Smith’s production has matured, but Croft and Sim have only slightly. That’s not entirely a knock as without their classic duet vocals and minimalist guitar work, this would not sound like an album by the xx. Rather, it would be Smith’s second album and it would lose all the vocal power of most of the album.

Where the album hurts however, is when it starts cozying up too much to the atmosphere of it’s predecessor, Coexist.

Before I go on, I must say I love Coexist. Coexist was fucking brutal. Coexist carried me during a heavy emotional period. And Coexist needs not repeat.

Because I See You sucks when it tries to mimic Coexist.

With cuts “Performance” and “Test Me,” I’m broken by boredom between Jamie’s instrumentals as the muted music sometimes sounds more like limp-wristed support rather than compelling composition.

But the cut “Brave For You,” crystalizes this unnecessary mimicry. Tragically, it’s a song written about Romy Madley Croft’s memories of her parents. You could argue that’s stylistically sound but that does not excuse a song from being musically uninteresting, as it slogs along with little momentum.

I don’t hate the song. I just desperately wish the song was better than it was and did not recall the more painfully boring moments of Coexist.

It resembles regression rather than progression until Jamie xx starts up his synthesizers again—and it’s telling that the band just needs to do more musical exploration together before they release another classic on the level of xx. Because right now, Jamie xx is on another level while his bandmates are same old, same old.

For the majority of I See You, however, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the band find its legs and start running again. How far will they go?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Grade: B

I See You by the xx

Track Listing:

  1. “Dangerous”
  2. “Say Something Loving”
  3. “Lips”
  4. “A Violent Noise”
  5. “Performance”
  6. “Replica”
  7. “Brave For You”
  8. “On Hold”
  9. “I Dare You”
  10. “Test Me”
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