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The xx exceeds expectations

New album “I See You” skillfully blends eclectic production with signature voice

<p>Cover art for The xx's latest album "I See You."</p>

Cover art for The xx's latest album "I See You."

When English indie band The xx released their self-titled debut album in 2009, they were swept to unexpected critical acclaim and sleeper hit status, earning them a cult following based on their tracks’ nuanced, minimalist and seductive sound. The smooth production of Jamie Smith, or Jamie xx, paired with the chemistry of singers Romy Croft and Oliver Sim definitively elevated the trio into mainstream awareness. Their follow-up, “Coexist,” built upon this sound and added to their legend.

In 2015, producer Jamie xx released his solo project “In Colour” to universal acclaim. Critics cited the rich and diverse production and sampling methods and noted a marked departure from the nuanced sound of the overall band. “I See You,” in contrast, combines Jamie’s expansive range of music making with Croft and Sim’s signature subtle sound, making the album simultaneously true to The xx’s roots but also more eclectic in nature.

Listeners will hear this avant-garde sound in Jamie’s broader production range throughout several tracks in the album. For example, the opener, “Dangerous,” marks their triumphant return with a deeply experimental beat. The combination of an upbeat bass riff, blasting horns and a supporting snareline all accompany Croft and Sim’s magical voices to create a bold statement of evolution and a superb track. “Say Something Loving” is uplifting and optimistic in both production and lyrical content — a stark departure from many of The xx’s lamentative songs of old.

Despite this, a large portion of “I See You” remains dedicated to the signature subtlety the band is famous for. Key techniques such as minimalism, silence and faded instrumentals are still pervasive on several songs, and themes of insecurity and desire create the overall intended effect of vulnerability.

For instance, “Performance” compares a band’s stage performances to the everyday performance of putting on a mask to hide insecurities. A particularly riveting line in “Dangerous” exhibits both lust and inhibition — “They say you are dangerous but I don’t care / I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.” Another hallmark of the band is the wholesome chemistry created by the pure voices of Croft and Sim, retained in the album as a continued homage to their previous works.

Other tracks combine these old and the new techniques, showcasing a never-before-seen versatility from the group. “A Violent Noise” starts off melancholy, but at the beat drop transgresses into an exuberant and powerful renunciation of the fast life. “On Hold” mixes the suppressed beatline of past xx with an experimental sample for a hook which displays the clear artistic progression of producer Jamie xx.

In the end, “I See You” culminates as a testament to Jamie xx’s newfound range of music making, but is still anchored by the nuanced take provided by the voices of Croft and Sim. Listeners will still find themselves pondering exactly who hurt these people — only this time to versatile production which seals the album as not only The xx of the past, but also The xx of the future.