Album art courtesy of the xx
Review by Julia Rosenfeld
The xx’s third and most recent album, “I See You,” is a step away from vocal ambivalence and towards melodic courage.
Instrumentally, I See You is very similar to the xx’s earlier albums. Band production master Jamie xx has consistently produced innovative and interesting music, and this is evident in I See You as well. However, the vocal lines (sung by Romy Croft and Oliver Sim) are much stronger and more dynamic on this album, which only further accentuates Jamie’s talent as a producer. In their previous work, Romy and Oliver’s airy vocals tended to merely supplement Jamie’s instrumentals; in I See You, they strengthen and build upon Jamie’s production.
As a singer, I tend to always pay attention primarily to the vocal elements of a song. On their debut album, Romy’s and Oliver’s breathy monotone voices created a very sparse indie feel. This aura certainly made for beautiful melodies, but I kept wanting to hear more from the vocalists, because I felt as though there was a vocal potentiality to these songs that they just weren’t satisfying. Therefore in the xx’s earlier work, the listener’s focus is primarily drawn to Jamie’s production, the simplistic vocals seeming to float in the background. On I See You, the pair’s voices are still distinctively soft and haunting, but also considerably stronger and more confident. There is certainly no belting, but their singing is richer and more emotionally dynamic.
These new-and-improved vocals also add substantially to the energy of I See You. Much of the xx’s earlier music could best be described as “sleepy indie,” but this album appears to be more pop-influenced, while still maintaining much of the simplicity that the xx is known for. Many of the songs on the album are catchier due to the more dynamic vocals, thus making each track more distinct and memorable. “Say Something Loving” and “On Hold” both encapsulate this more upbeat feeling, seeming to match the excitement of the instrumentals more closely. In the xx’s previous albums, I felt as though each song could move seamlessly from one to the next, but “I See You” feels more diverse and exciting.
The album also contains moodier tracks like “Performance,” which is potentially one of the most emotional, ballad-type songs the xx has ever released. The passion in songs like “Performance,” absent in tracks on the xx’s earlier albums, made me pay more attention to the lyrics and the feelings of the melodies. This emotive aura gave the album more personality and sensitivity.
Perhaps blinded by my bias as a singer, I would still love to hear even stronger vocals from the xx in their future work. Jamie xx’s talent as a producer creates so much space for melodic experimentation and powerful singing. However, I See You is consistent with the xx’s commitment to a kind of simplicity, while also demonstrating a newfound vocal confidence from Romy and Oliver.
This time, more than ever, we hear you!