I must admit, I slept on The xx for quite some time. I had heard their name in passing since their 2009 self-titled debut but never heavily dissected their discography. Not until the release of band factotum Jamie xx’s stellar 2015 solo debut In Colour was I forced to take notice. Recorded over a five-year span, In Colour shines through its timely mixing of vibrant instrumentals, smooth track-to-track transitions, and crowd-inspired grooves. Although Smith has been a major contributor to each of The xx’s three albums, his disk jockey buoyancy is seldom found within The xx’s typically somber lyrics and soundscapes. The same can be said about I See You apart from its lead single, “On Hold”.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. In Colour would not function without flashes of exuberance. Conversely, this album’s sparse ramification in production coincides with the low, quiet tones set by guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sims. The writing here extends from escapist clubbing habits and clean-slate pleas to challenging infatuation and heartbreak with steadfast resilience. Second-half standout “Brave for You” finds Romy at the most vulnerable point in her career as she channels the souls of her departed parents to find the strength to push forward in times of doubt (her mother passed when she was 11; her father when she was 20, during her first world tour). On this album, she and her bandmates prove there can be power in fragility.
As endearing as I See You‘s lyrics are, the modest and reserved production qualities tend to stagnate the album’s replay appeal. The London trio uses samples here more than ever before such as Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” and even “Doing It Wrong” from Drake’s dual-threat, emo-rap triumph Take Care. Jamie Smith’s solo energy could have lent a helping hand in making I See You sound as ambitious as its lyrical content and concept suggest. The lead guitar does little to evolve across the track list. With albums as tightfisted as this, each instrument is placed under a microscope because of how many sonic elements are not present. Hearing similar strums or rhythmic patterns throughout blend one song into another faultily rather than cohesively on occasion. The melancholic vocals of Croft and Sims neither combat nor neutralize this flaw. However, I See You‘s purpose lies in its delicate valor — a feat amongst the noisy obsessions of contemporary pop music.