Album Review: The xx's "I See You"By Sam Baker | 02/08/2017 11:23pm
The xx bridge the gap between mainstream pop-rock and indie. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
ALBUM: “I See You”
ARTIST: The xx
Grab a microphone, plug a Fender Stratocaster into a 40-watt amplifier, and strum bar-chords as hard as you possibly can, and chances are, you will probably generate enough decibels to get your point across. The same mentality applies for the modern era of electronic dance music, built around building atmospheric electro-house beats that give way to bass-centric drops, driving physical movement. Both forms of expression skip all semblances of intentionality and instead channel emotional muse through phonic aggression. But while this mentality has generated success for a vast array of musical groups, there has always been a certain art in subtlety. What happens when you combine the same emotional ferocity but remove the volume and presence? Answer: musical tension.
No band of the post-2000s era generation has embodied this ideology of musical tension more than British trio The xx. Leading a wave of alt-inspired indie-rock musicians, content with remaining on the outer fringes of mainstream music, The xx has managed to do the impossible: bridge the gap between mainstream pop-rock and indie without compromising their sound. This can be seen by the bands irrefutable success. Only having released three full length albums, The xx has managed to accrue over eight million monthly Spotify listeners, and singles such as “Intro” off of the self-titled album “xx” featured on numerous commercials around the country. But what makes the band so wildly successful? Self-proclaimed minimalists, the band’s sound and lyrics communicate the forgotten and subdued emotions of the human psyche through an artfully produced array of songs that seek only to convey a sentiment, and nothing else. This simplicity is relatable, giving the xx the power to captivate and mesmerize without having to explain themselves.
The Album/ How it Compares:
“I See You”, the group’s third studio album, holds true to the band’s iconic sound and message. Combining a medley of influences, including R&B, pop, techno, and indie-rock, “I See You” radiates an utterly ethereal sound, bathed in a melancholic and somber intent that embodies the pain of loss and rejection. This album is by far The xx’s most distressed, and in turn one of the band’s most raw forms of expression. Each song seems to be an integral part of the work as a collective. If released as a collection of singles, each song would likely fail to impress, but as an album, “I See You” spins an impressive narrative, channeled through the art of electronic and production minimalism. The most notable song on the album “Lips” begins entirely acapella, as the lyrics “just your love, just your shadow, just your voice, and my soul” reverberate the bands message of minimalism through a vulnerable lyricism to match.
But while “I See You” demonstrates perhaps the band’s most impressive control of intentionality to date, the album is quite simply not as good as the group’s first album “xx”. In return for an impressive minimalistic sound, “I See You” has certain stretches of songs, which are nothing less than boring. “Performance”, “Replica”, and “Brave For You”, tracks five through seven on the album, feel repetitive and monotonous, demonstrating a flaw in The xx’s sometimes over-homogenous sound. Despite these concerns, “I See You” still proves itself as an impressive album, demonstrating the power of subtlety and reaffirming The xx’s status as masters in innovation and production minimalism.