The xx - I See You
One of the most random awesome discoveries of first-year was a mashup of the xx's "Intro" and Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy". Never a fan of Biggie, something about the incongruous pairing drew me in. The hypnotic sparseness and gentle throbbing beat of "Intro" took on new life under the easy flow and dark lyrics of the Brooklyn rapper.
The xx's eponymous debut album in 2009 saw them define a new sound, part indie pop, part sleek R&B. Minimalist arrangements centered on simple guitar riffs, muffled piano and quietly insistent beats were topped off with soft vocals and melancholy-tinged lyrics. The effect was dreamy, refreshing, and intimate. Coexist, released in 2012, followed in a similar style.
Their latest album, I See You, recently released, shows the British trio expanding their range while staying true to their original sound. Whereas xx and Coexist were exercises in the interplay of silence and rhythm, I See You explores more creative textures and musical arrangements. Their earlier crystal purity has warmed up and become more human in the process. In 2015 producer and band member Jamie Smith pursued a solo career under the name Jamie xx and his new sound - expertly manipulated samples, bolder yet still nuanced sounds, a delicate balance between intimate and all-surrounding - is clearly reflected in the band's latest album.
From the big brassy urgency of lead track "Dangerous", the xx has clearly evolved from their strictly minimalist aesthetic. The vocals are still intimate, but with more confidence and assertiveness. Instead of singing past each other, like echoes in an empty room, singers Romy Croft and Oliver Sim harmonize against the ebb and swell of snare drums and defiant trumpet interludes. "On Hold" is one of the album's masterpieces. Croft and Sim's back and forth duet is slowly enveloped by a distorted Hall & Oates sample of "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" that weaves in and out of the song. Another unlikely pairing that meshes seamlessly for an understated yet memorable track, "Performance" has the melancholic sparseness of xx but Croft's voice, haunting, both steely and on the verge of tears, adds an element of human warmth and emotional introspection. "Replica" touches on the fears of becoming ones parents: "And as if I tried to, I turned out just like you/Do we watch and repeat?" set against a gently unfolding melody.
I See You sees the band pushing the boundaries of minimalism to explore greater complexities - sonically, compositionally, vocally. The band has matured and their latest album reflects both the personal growth of the artists, who formed in 2005 as teenagers in school, and creativity as musicians willing to incorporate new elements to their music while staying true to their core. Where xx found them half-whispering, using negative space as much as sound, I See You finds the xx coming into their voices and sound. What has remained very consistent throughout? Their moody, minimalist cover albums emblazoned with a single "x". I see what you did there.
Check out I See You on SoundCloud and Spotify:
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