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The xx I See You in the album review

Blemishes of light in the night sky.

I move through increasingly slight shadows.

Well, of course I do. It’s New Music Friday today and what better time to delve into an early 2017 album release? I know, The xx will cheer us all up with their anthemic ROCK anthems. Well, although classified as ‘ROCK’ you’d be hard pressed to determine as much from the opener of I See You which is brass plus dance and half hearted, seemingly aiming to be smooth vocals. Smooth as sick butter. Jamie XX by the way, the dance producer and member of The xx, has seen his own mainstream success since we last heard from The xx. I’m not sure the alternating female/male vocals across this album, with just occasional atmospheric bass and guitar, will be enough to ultimately hold The xx together. Still, I See You is a pleasant ‘ten’ listen (’80s, ’90s, noughties, ’10s?) – I know, absolutely nobody calls the decade that.

The greatest part of opener Dangerous? Those brass parts parp in the out of the sound mix, the alternating vocals are good but the bass groove is key – up in the mix and groovy – without managing to demolish everything else. Second track Say Something Loving, a single, is even better. Some lovely indistinct vocal pitches in and out, softly and under everything else. The alternating male and female vocals work well given the nature of the lyrics. The production is superb as is the arrangement and by rights, this should be a massive hit. It’s unlikely to be a massive hit, by the way. Something as simple as the chorus not being obvious enough and drunkenly punching you in the head at the same time as you are out of yours, means this has more intelligence immediately than the average modern hit single. The xx are very much an albums artist though, at least in their native UK. They’ve had at the time of writing exactly one top forty single as opposed to two number one albums, and one number three album.

One good thing about I See You among several good things is the length. Thirty-nine minutes is just right, although sadly it’s just ‘a collection of songs’ rather than seeming to have any central theme. The closing number Test Me isn’t epic particularly memorable whilst the opening half of the record is by far the sturdiest. Frontloading albums should have died in the ’80s and early ’90s, for my money. I don’t have much money however, and this is an amateur reviewing blog, so what the hell is my opinion worth anyway? I’m far too, well, not old-school exactly.

Rather what currently you might call ‘retro’ or ‘semi-popular’ music. ‘The XX’ aren’t necessarily meant for me with my yearning for jingle jangle guitars and vocal harmonies, a style of music very much dead. Yet, I admire the feel of this record, an almost hidden undercurrent of sadness and longing, of loving and not loving. The non-expressive vocals fit this kind of sunshine on a rainy-day music. What else? Well, lead single On Hold almost sounds happy, and livens up the second half of the album.

As refreshing as diving into a pool, and quite possibly the best album of the group’s career, Miles beyond the dour, muted neon of Coexist, I See You adds in the breezy rave vibe that characterised Jamie xx’s last solo effort and tones the bleak vibes into something more wistful than melancholy. 

Steve Pafford

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