London-based, indie-pop band The xx is a perfect example of accidental fame.
Band members Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft, and Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx) did not expect their music to gain wide popularity, or to even be heard at all. The three grew up together and began making music as teenagers. Their 2009 self-titled debut album received a positive response from all around the world, followed by the success of their second album, Coexist.
On January 13, the trio released their third album, I See You. After about four years since Coexist, the band’s sound has noticeably evolved. The xx, known best for their minimalistic approach and slightly depressing lyrics, is more upbeat this time around. Songs like “On Hold,” “Say Something Loving,” and “I Dare You” showcase this new sound. Jamie xx, also one of the band’s producers, definitely had a huge influence on the album.
“On Hold,” the first track released from I See You, consists of electro-pop elements, using samples from 1981 hit, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” by Hall and Oates. Despite the change in sound, The xx has kept their hauntingly intimate lyrics, creating a constant present theme of nostalgia: “The stars and charts and the cards make sense/Only when we want them too/When I lie awake staring into space/I see a different view.”
“Performance,” written and sung by Madley Croft, is one song from the new album that is less electro and more like a ballad: “Even when I was hiding/You could always find me/Now you’ve stopped looking for me/But I’m still playing hide and seek.”
One of my personal favorites on this album is “Replica,” a song about a time when the band didn’t enjoy performing night after night. The lyrics and mood of “Replica” remind me of their older songs on Coexist, if a little more amplified. On the other hand, “Dangerous” is just too different. The loud trumpet sound in the beginning is extremely off putting and the beat isn’t catchy. “Dangerous” doesn’t seem to fit The xx’s relaxing sound.
Although I See You is more upbeat than their previous two albums, it still carries a chill vibe that is unmistakably The xx. The band seems more confident and extroverted than ever before, especially when performing live. Sim explains in an interview with The Fader about how the band has become closer after taking some time off.
“Towards the end of Coexist, we had a couple of short tours where, although we were on the road together, we weren’t speaking very much. Those were some of my unhappiest moments,” he mentions in the interview.
The creation of I See You friendship strengthened the band’s friendship. Feeling happier and more optimistic could be the real reason why The xx displays more confidence than before. This new stage presence, which can be seen in recent performances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show, is positive for the band’s career. The high anticipation of I See You will finish off with a European and North American tour, including festival stops such as Coachella and Lollapalooza.
Overall, I am pretty pleased with this album. It is definitely worth a listen. However, I See You isn’t any better than their last two albums; it is just different. With that being said, if you have been a long time fan of The xx, you might not like the change as much. I think change is usually a good thing for artists. The xx seem to be in a very different place than they were four years ago.