The xx are a truly remarkable trinity.
In 2015, Jamie xx released his debut solo album In Colour, which was not only lauded by critics, but fans around the world. It was regarded as one of the best albums of the year, launching what could be an incredible solo career for Jamie.
But there is an interesting distinction on the cover of his solo album, he replaced the large “x” found on the cover of every xx album, with just one piece of that “x” in the corner. He also didn’t release the solo album under his real name or a new band name, just simply “Jamie xx”.
They are an incredibly loyal trinity, truly as great of friends as artists. Jamie’s success led to no infighting or breakups, just an NME interview, where his fellow bandmates admitted that going to Jamie’s shows and seeing his success, helped light a fire under them to make their new album.
The fire is indeed there, as The xx have crafted their best album so far, by drawing equally on each member’s strengths. Whereas earlier albums focused on a more spare and stripped down sound that was easier to recreate live. “I See You” makes an effort to include the colorful palettes Jamie showed us on In Colour.
They waste no time establishing their new and powerful sound, with the opening track “Dangerous”. It begins with a very “Jamie” sample of a bold and powerful horn, which then fades into a very cool “Jamie” drum beat that is immediately joined by a classic Oliver baseline. It creates what is easily the most forceful and fun song they’ve ever made, catchy and seductive.
The joining of everyone’s strengths is best demonstrated on the album highlight, “Say Something Loving,” which begins with a Jamie sample of an old song that fades into repetition, and then is joined by Romy’s guitar, strumming at the same pace and pitch of the sample, with their sounds merging together as one.
“Say Something Loving” is clearly the best song on the album, musically and lyrically. The lyrics written for this song are so deeply honest and raw and relatable about what it’s like to be an insecure person beginning a new relationship. If you go online and read them, you’ll basically be reading about me in every relationship I’ve ever been in.
The inclusion of more of Jamie’s style into the music helps them create more rosy, more colorful, and more accessible music, but his solo success not only pushed the band to include him more, but to step up their game as well. The vocals on the album are absolutely sublime, pushing Romy and Oliver’s abilities to the limit. Rather than opting for the same soft mumbles over somewhat spare and depressing chords, Oliver and Romy make every vocal line full of hooks and an incredibly wide range of pitches. You genuinely can’t help but sing along to many of the songs as they are so undeniably catchy.
Songs like “I Dare You” are catchy pop-rock at it’s finest that almost reminds you of Fleetwood Mac, and the Tribal “Lips” is dark and textured like something you would hear out of The Cure. It smacks of undeniable effort to make their sound larger, fuller, and catchier.
This tactic isn’t without its flaws though, as some hooks tried so hard to be catchy, they sound too reminiscent of pop songs you’ve heard before. On “I Dare You” which has a chorus so similar to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”, I can’t help but think of it every time I hear the song.
The pop sensibilities also lead to some awkward and cliche lyrics we’ve heard a dozen times before in love songs, but they never commit any atrocities as bad as “I got sunshine in my pocket”, so I give them a free pass. (GOD DAMN YOU JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE! TRY HARDER).
The album to me really builds off of their incredible “Finally” cover, which they performed live on BBC and I will include below. That cover is absolute perfection, as it captures the strengths of each band member in a perfect way.
This is a really good album, I think it sags a little bit in the middle, and lacks one more really strong single or song, so I think it’s hard to push it into the great or classic territory, but I enjoyed it more and more after each listen.
It started out just “ok” to me, but then slowly seeped into my brain and I can’t stop listening to it. It is a very rich and rewarding album that will probably be on of the best of the year, and yes, the name is inspired by Frank Ocean, who also inspired some of the album’s sound.
I look forward to The xx being remembered as one of the great bands of my generation. Unless they collaborate with Justin Timberlake.
Best Songs: Dangerous, Say Something Loving, Lips, I Dare You