Coexist, the band’s 2012 sophomore album, included what was distinctly unique about the trio and eliminated virtually everything else, producing a sound both refined and stripped down. Since then, Jamie xx had released his debut solo album to much critical acclaim, with the sample-heavy In Colour foreshadowing what was to come from The xx in the future.
The first single from I See You, “On Hold”, which recently came #20 in the 2016 Hottest 100, was the first music we had received from The xx in four-and-a-half years. From this single alone we could tell that the new album was to become an extension of Jamie xx’s solo work, with a sample used from a Hall and Oates song and a fuller sounding instrumentation.
The album itself could almost claim concept-status, as the majority of the album revolves around a relationship that is on life support, destined to end. The lyrics of both Madley Croft and Sim aren’t in direct conversation with each other, instead being like two intertwining monologues throughout.
“Dangerous” opens the album with a blaring choir of horns, which settles into a ricocheting dark-lit groove. The synth-driven “Say Something Loving” and powerful “On Hold” provide similarly euphoric relief from the album’s more melancholic ballads. Madley Croft is given opportunities on the album to individually discuss keeping up appearances (“Performance”) and her parents’ deaths (“Brave for You”), exposing her open wounds with vulnerability and sincerity. On “Replica”, Sim discusses growing old but not growing up, as he sings “25 and you’re just like me/ Is it in our nature to be stuck on repeat?”
The xx no longer have the sound of the band that won the 2009 Mercury Prize with xx, largely discarding their minimal instrumentations for powerful beats and a sample-driven backbone. Despite this, the songs on I See You sound oddly familiar, as the vocal delivery and lyricism of Madley Croft and Sim preserve the very essence of the band.