Review: The xx – I See You
National Music Reviews
I See You
The xx = Michelle Featherstone + The Head and the Heart + Chet Faker
It’s been five years since The xx released their second album, Coexist. Within these five years, bandmates Madley Croft (guitar, vocals), Oliver Slim (bass, vocals) and Jamie Smith (beats, MPC, production) have been hard at work to create an album that combines, challenges and propels their various talents—that work, my friends, is their latest album, I See You.
I See You is set into motion with “Dangerous,” a track with club vibes and a disco ambiance. Its lyrics are more positive than the typical xx song, focusing on positive outcomes, taking risks and hopeful love affairs. Other songs that filter in the disco-vibe include an all-new favorite xx song of mine, “Lips.” This track winks to the album’s title, with lyrics that are truly about seeing another person: their body, their mind, their soul. “On Hold,” despite being a song about insecure relationships and young love, incorporates a ’70s dance feel. Smith’s sultry beats lead listeners into a mindset of body language. The physicality of these songs is comfortably overwhelming and pleasantly intimate.
However, just as you get comfortable feeling the groove of movement and passion, Croft and Slim bring back the aura of old-school xx favorites, evoking feelings of loss and worry into the lyrics. Songs like “Say Something Loving” and “A Violent Noise” trip the dance movements and ask the listener to pay closer attention to the duo’s voices and words. “A Violent Noise” takes a dark turn, describing how painful escapism can be, especially when the escape is to drown yourself with music: “Am I too high? Am I too proud? Is the music too loud for me to hear? Now I go, but every beat is a violent noise.”
Like with all xx albums, Croft has one or two solo songs, but the particular songs on I See You are especially endearing and soft. Her first solo song, “Performance,” includes a violin in the background that sounds similar to an anguished cry. Croft gently sings, “If I scream at the top of my lungs, will you hear what I don’t say? I put on a performance. I’ll put on a show … I do it all slow … I want you to notice, but you just don’t see.” Each track hints back to the album’s title—sometimes enthusiastically, other times devastatingly. “Brave For You” is another of Croft’s solos, this time featuring keys that sound eerily like a funeral organ playing a major scale. Her songs are earth-shattering and purely human.
“I Dare You” brings the listener back into a place of hope and risk with its lyrics: “I’m enraptured from the inside. I can feel that you want to wake up high on it. Feeling suspended. I’m enamored, way up in the sky.” The xx let you stay there, in the sky, until the album comes crashing down with its final song, “Test Me.” It forces you to listen to each sound, slowly taking in each hint of pain, of pleasure, of grief and desire. Croft and Slim sing back and forth, “You look, but you never see. Just take it out on me … See if I break … Test me.” Slow piano breaks through an echoed chorus in between the duo’s verses, and the drums slowly build, bringing with them fragments of songs, sounds and mixes. It is the most beautiful way The xx could have ended the album.
I See You is an album that takes you on a journey from euphoria to heartbreak, from the passionate to the vulnerable. It is a genius of an album, handsomely polished and molded together to create the full spectrum of human emotion. It can—and should be—played on repeat, moving from whole to shattered to whole again. It may only be January, but I See You just might end up becoming my favorite album of the year. –Alex Vermillion