You can only be sad for so long. And you can only take a ‘sound’ so far. The xx clearly know this as well as everyone else. I See You, the group’s third album and first in four years, sees a subtle shift towards a happier, sunnier sound. It could be argued this is due to Jamie xx’s solo success. In Colour contains brighter textures, paying tribute to dance music’s history across all genres.
With The xx’s music having been more suitable for afterparties, quiet corners in clubs, and intimate moments, it is easy to say I See You is sunnier. Opener Dangerous features an ominous 2 step beat, while On Hold is a bonafide banger built around a Hall & Oates sample (The xx’s first to album to feature such). The result is their most up-tempo song, while A Violent Noise gives way to a wall of trance-based sounds. This is not to say the guitars are abandoned completely, or their new sound is unrecognisable; they have just evolved.
Lyrically, I See You is more peaceful. Where in the past there was often conflict or loneliness, there are now declarations of requited love. Say Something Loving is a beaming testament to the power of being in love. However, it wouldn’t be The xx without some melancholy. Oliver Sim’s open battle with alcohol between the last two albums is explored to great effect. He asks, “Do we watch and repeat” our self-destructive behaviour in Replica. The impact of this on his friendship with fellow singer Romy Madley Croft can be seen in the menacing closer Test Me.
Vocally, both singers are stronger than ever. Where they once whispered they yell (perhaps not yell, more talking at normal volume, but the progression is there). Especially on Lips, where there is newfound confidence. Duets still convey the same intense longing and vulnerability, but both singers shine on solos. On Brave For You,, perhaps a song about bereavement, Croft’s voice aches with a sadness which can’t help but move.
With The xx’s second album Coexist, sought make the first album’s sound even more minimal to lessening effect. Here the decision to take risks results in a much more inventive, powerful and interesting album for it. Sadness, no more.