From the moment you hear the heraldic brass motif of the opening track ‘Dangerous’, you know that The xx’s third album I See You is going to be an innovation.
The trumpet flare signals both an evolution from their former work as well as a continuation of their haunting, yet moving, signature sound. It is clear that the five years since the release of Coexist have allowed the band to grow individually and come back together to create a sound that no longer carries the push and pull of previous albums. This is most visibly expressed in ‘On Hold’ where Romy and Oliver’s unguarded vocals intertwine with Jamie’s thumping baseline, resulting in a carefully designed tension that feels like a stolen teenage kiss in the dark.
The album puts the resourcefulness of the two vocal singers on full display. Oliver fades in and out, holding his end of the conversation: “25 and you’re just like me / Is it in our nature to be stuck on repeat?” he asks in ‘Replica’. In comparison, Romy talks to a mirror – she throws her arms “at no one” in ‘Say Something Loving’. ‘Performance’ not only touches upon our tendency to uphold a disguise for the happiness of others, but explores the wrestling between how the world sees The xx and how they see themselves: “You won’t see me hurting / when my heart it breaks” sings Romy, ripe in shy introspection. Yet despite the overwhelming sense of loss, ‘Performance’ builds up to a tone of hope: “The show is wasted on you / So I perform for me”.
I See You maintains a perfect balance between yearning and pain. Nothing is ever certain – love, the future, ourselves. There is fear: “There are so many things I wish I didn’t know”, but, most importantly, there is courage: “I’ll try my best to let them go” (‘Brave For You’). It is rare to find an album that not only reaches outwards but inwards, but The xx have achieved this perfectly with I See You: it is a love song that asks both themselves, and their listeners, to dare.