The XX-I See You: Album Review

There’s no doubt that The XX have had a huge impact.   By evidence of nearly every single major music blog in the past month or so, their return is highly anticipated. Also, sonically we hear scrapes of xx in much of the soft but somehow all over the festival circuit music that’s been released since their 2009 debut.  As someone who hasn’t received dozens of pampering PR emails from the group as of late, I’ve hopefully avoided the hype and gone in with a steady hand.  This is not to say that their hype is entirely undeserved.  Jamie XX’s In Colour was hugely impactful in my opinion and his textured, rhythmic beats make welcome returns on I See You. The trouble is the group’s focus on the singers; both Romy and Oliver are relatively lackluster unless accompanied by an impactful instrumental, but after the opening track they try to jump into sterile, white space not unlike Frank Ocean’s Blonde—a space only Ocean can pull off.  Throw in the straightforward emotional lyrics and you’ve got an album that really doesn’t sparkle.

“Dangerous” starts the album off on the right foot.  A bit of horns pop at your ears first, before the smolder really sets in with the Oliver’s bass line.  By addressing a toxic relationship that both people involved in can’t get away from, the track cues up a lot of the topics that fill the rest of the record: “you are dangerous but I don’t care/I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.”  Still, even as one of the most danceable tracks, “Dangerous” feels like a catalyst for something more exciting, but instead the rest of the album offers a downward trend in energy.

“Say Something Loving” encompasses a much more minimal instrumental approach.  Pressing synths open as Oliver and Romy trade lyrics about returning to intimacy after a long time without it (and worrying if it is affecting their judgement).  The melodies are a bit ham fisted and give the impression that Romy and Oliver are pretty limited in terms of vocal range.  Also, their quiet performances don’t exactly command the stagnant beat from Jamie.

After another slow-paced, generic hook on “Lips” (“In my head, in my veins/In the way you give and take/In the way that you weigh/On my body, on my brain”), Oliver takes somewhat of a lead singing role on “A Violent Noise,” which takes on the topic of going out and partying a lot to fill a void, to no avail: “I go out but every beat is a violent noise.” Again spacey, echoing guitars and increasing rhythmic activity in the synths give off the impression that the album is building up to an impactful climax, but the end of each chorus just falls off a cliff musically.

Romy offers much of the same on her two solo numbers, “Performance” and “Brave For You,” one addressing the idea of hiding your true self to please your significant other: “I do it all so/You won’t see me hurting/When my heart it breaks,” and the second about using the memory of someone to inspire you to do better: “Though you’re not here/I can feel you there.”  Both of these tracks continue the spacey, slow trend and Romy shows a lot of weakness in the delivery of her high notes on “Brave For You.”  Luckily, Jamie does round out the track nicely with some pummeling drums that create somewhat of a climax.

The last three tracks don’t exactly stray too far from the pack other than generally sounding brighter (“I Dare You” is basically a coldplay song) and again, Jamie pulls together a nice moment at the very end with this beautiful, longing melody on what almost sounds like a siren.  Overall, the record just doesn’t achieve that much of a bite for me and part of that could certainly be chalked up to artistic intention.  It’s clear that they were going for an emotional project and the lyrics are decently personal.  However, the vocalists really don’t hold their own over the minimal instrumentals that run far too rampant in the middle of the record, making for an uneventful experience.

-Donovan Burtan

5/10

Why isn’t “Dangerous” the single?

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