The London trio hit back with their third studio album, I See You, and it is in perfect keeping with their album cover series consisting of an X blazed over the cover. This time, however, it's reflective and that is a common theme on the album. The artists within The XX, Oliver Sim, Romy Croft and Jamie Smith are known for their incredibly well crafted beats via Jamie XX, as he's commonly recognised. And the intertwining singing voices of Oliver and Romy whom rarely harmonise but instead take turns in singing their particular sections of songs whilst also giving their hand in trade to the guitar and keyboards. Critics of the band have usually called them bland and boring but rarely do you see a trio whom are so open emotionally and aren't going to sell out for a hit.
The albums kicks in with Dangerous, a classic Jamie XX beat which slowly builds with Oliver Sim kicking straight into the chorus with his soothing voice. Then Romy takes over with her stronger, more ballad focused voice. There is notably very heavy bass towards the start of the track and the use of a synthesiser as Oliver builds towards the chorus. Whilst the song still remains sparse and brass induced it talks about the dangerous connection between two people and the before and after effects of that. The beats by Jamie XX match this perfectly because it's sharp and hard and very dangerous in itself. The album then shifts into my personal favourite song on the project, Say Something Loving. It's a tale of requited love and whether the original love is in fact real. It's more of an excerpt of self reflection in the pre-stages of a relationship, of whether they really want this to happen or not and does the other person want this to happen as much as they may do. This self doubt builds within the echoed guitars and varied percussion throughout and then the sudden emptiness before every verse. The sampling of Alessi Brothers' "Do You Feel It" is expertly inserted here with the soft, background cries of "before you slip away" almost acting as a cry of help.
Lips contains an eery sample of David Lang. It slowly builds into the iconic Jamie XX percussion before Romy breaks in crying "I don't wanna know the way down" and "I just want it all". Romy's vocals are what really shine on this track though as she takes control over Oliver's symphonic voice with her stronger more feminine tones. The song sees itself out with chaos breaking out as a violin stutters into the fold and it closes with a toned down, gentle electric guitar courtesy of Romy. The song A Violent Noise almost treats itself as an oxymoron as it takes a much more basic approach than what the previous 3 tracks have. It was also one of the earliest songs that was written on the album as Oliver Sim has previously stated "I wrote it whilst touring Coexist" and some of the more basic, simpler elements have been carried on from that album.
It's at this point that the album starts to take a bit of a downturn, Performance, Replica & Brave for You are three of the worst songs on the album. They just don't match the tempo that has been established with the first part of the album, songs like Performance just immediately nosedives the mood. Not to mention, it's so bland and boring. And the tempo continues to go down from there. The album then picks back up with the first single from the album, On Hold, a no holds barred, chorus blasting banger. The album slowly builds with a drum 'n' bass inspired build up to then slow down and throw in a Hall & Oates sample. This is arguably the best showcase for Jamie XX's skills, as even though this is a very laid-back beat, the intertwining of the drum machine and the falling bass with the hand claps building to the chorus is expertly done. The lyrics to the song are also very well written, detailing a stale relationship and whether they should keep going or just leave it but through the idea of relating it to a telephone being on hold… as the name suggests.
The track I Dare You, very much continues a minimalist theme, further moving from the big synths and overblown percussion from the start of the album. With the beat throughout remaining relatively constant, but it just feels like there's something waiting to burst out of this track throughout but it just never happens. It's almost baiting all of them tacky remixes you get when you buy singles because the artist couldn't be bothered to make a B-Side. The track explores the theme of infatuation but very rarely provides anything new or thoughtful within the lyrics. The album closer is an emotional track, the beat and thus Jamie XX take a backseat whilst Oliver and Romy sing. The story behind this song is about the strains on the XX after releasing Coexist because Jamie was hard to nail down for studio time because of his solo album, In Colour. Oliver then spun into alcoholism, and tested his friendship with Romy many times during that period, she even used this song as a way to speak to him because she did not want to talk to him directly. And yes, the song isn't the most lyrical or the most provocative. But the fact that it means so much in terms of the band and it's members really resonates with me. Thankfully, Oliver is now clear of his alcoholism and the band say they find it easier to talk to each other now. This brings me back to the cover. The reflective cover represents the band looking inward on this album, reflecting on themselves and their band members, and the relationships that entail that. If they didn't think the cover through and that is just a coincidence then it's a very artistic induced coincidence but that's what I've taken from it.
p.s. Go and check out the song Seasons Run that was on the deluxe edition, how it didn't make the album is criminal to say the least
p.p.s. Also check out Naive that's on the deluxe edition, you're welcome.