Album of the Week: The xx, 'I See You'

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The xx, 'I See You'
The xx, 'I See You' (Young Turks)
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What words would you use to describe the xx on their previous albums? Dreamy? Shadowy? Minimalist? Sure. In the five years since Coexist was released, a bevy of copycat bands have filled the airwaves and blogs with a hazy film of bedroom-pop: introverted beats layered with soft male/female vocals trading off lines. So, how does the xx's new album, I See You, fit into the landscape they helped create? They wipe away the film that misted over their previous music and face the music with clear voices.

The minimalism that they are known for is still a guiding force, but now the vocals take center stage. It's a new direction for the notoriously shy band — glossier vocals covering brassy garage, dance and tropicalia-esque beats. The version of the xx in the previous two albums was all about the mood and vibe, their voices being layered into the music like a dense fog, only breaking up every once and again. Now, the vocals are front and center; crisp edges and clear. It almost seems like the vocals were all laid out a cappella and then a very light touch added in some pokes of music (a hover of strings here, a tropical shoulder swagger of notes there).

I See You is a slow-motion, sober seduction. In "A Violent Noise," a pulse of distorted keys bleeps and pauses, with a heartbeat-syncopated drum kit fading in and out. The music is dancing around the vocals like they are playing a game of follow the leader, always a step behind and shuddering to a stop a moment after the vocals pause. In "Performance," Romy Madley Croft's voice is beautifully painful. It's a glorious molasses so sticky it doesn't need anything else, but the shimmering stark strings and bare guitar drone build the song into a wonderful showpiece.

It's ironic, but by taking away the extra layer, the xx managed to add so much more on I See You. Now that everyone else has copped their style, it would have been easy for the xx to throw another hazy album out to an audience that would eagerly stream it on repeat.

But, luckily for us, they decided to go for an even more extreme minimalism. The absence of the dreamy fog somehow makes the songs seem more intimate, more personal. In "Brave For You," Croft croons, "So I will be brave for you/Stand on a stage for you/Do the things that I'm afraid to do."

The bravery pays off for the xx with a strong and forceful new album.

Resources


The xx - official site

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