The xx, I See You, 2017, Young Turks
Say Something Loving
A Violent Noise
Brave for You
I Dare You
Mercury Music Prize winners The xx formed in 2005, first getting together while they were still at school. I See You is their third and most recent album and the second of their albums to reach number 1. Their sound incorporates indie rock and pop and electro beats. This album also relies heavily on samples, unlike their first two albums.
Dangerous starts with horns and remains funky throughout. It’s a surprising start if you know the band’s previous work. The echoing guitars and soaring strings on Say Something Loving make it a very gentle and languid sounding song. Guest artists Trio Mediaeval make the intro to Lips sound like a Gregorian chant and lend an unexpectedly awesome air of timelessness to the song. It’s a very cool sound. A Violent Noise, about a person no longer wanting to drink and party all the time is a return to the standard electro indie that fans of the band will know. Performance has a gorgeous vocal performance but it’s so slow and sparse as to be ponderous. Replica with more than a flavour of The Cure about it is the track on which their tone and pace seems to work best for me. The lyrical introspection, considering the idea that addiction is hereditary, lends itself perfectly to the bass heavy melody. Brave for You, written about how vocalist Romy Madley Croft deals with the deaths of her parents has a euphoric quality to it and it feels positive despite the subject matter. Lead single On Hold feels jarring in its commercial poppy-ness. It’s very different from the rest of the album. I Dare You continues in this vein and for me it’s the weakest track. The album closes with the piano based Test Me, a song about tensions within the band. It’s a dark and melancholy ending.
The dark and moody sound that permeates makes this a very cohesive and whole album that seems to benefit from being listened to in one sitting. For me though this makes it a bit of an intimidating listen as it’s not a genre I would normally gravitate towards. The vocals are intimate and delicate but it’s all just a bit too depressing and it never really seems to go anywhere. I have to say I feel like I am missing something obvious because The xx are huge, but I suppose I just prefer my music with a harder edge. The production is much slicker than on their debut, but it makes it all feel a little bit contrived and clinical. I think that may be why I can’t connect with it. Although I recognise how well put together it is, I feel as though I am being directed towards how the songs should make me feel by the production. It’s clear that a large part of this is made for festivals though, but I do think I’d need to be intoxicated and enveloped in a festival vibe to truly enjoy the sound.
The xx are everywhere though and their dominance of the current UK indie scene shows no sign of stopping. Their music has been used extensively in film and television and they have influenced a diverse group of artists including Chainsmokers, Shawn Mendes, Zara Larsson, Drake, Rihanna and Kiiara.