British Indie Rides the Wave
The opening fanfare on The xx’s third album foreshadows a ska tune that never comes to be. However, after listening to I See You‘s in full, most listeners will be more than willing to overlook what may have been. The first song, “Dangerous,” quickly unfolds with a danceable beat and a catchy hook. Throughout the album, the percussion heavily utilizes keening sirens and a variety of droning synths, including delicately scraped violins on “Performance.”
The album deserves to be listened to in an optimal stereo setting–preferably through a high-fidelity set of headphones. Its pleasing synth layering allows the listener to become awash with auditory sensations. However, the overall sound of the album is also radio-ready, courting the popular listenership’s current infatuation with the indie sound, and with soulful tenors and high emoting female vocals. Romy Croft runs the emotional vocalist gamut, evoking everyone from Sarah McLachlan, to Adele and Florence Welch. This is not to say she is not her own artist in any respect. The group showcases her voice–as well as those of her bandmates–with refreshing equity.
In general, the album’s stunning vocals take command over the satisfying beats and subdued instrumentation. Harmony is minimal, apart from a few instances when it is not, in which case the tracks in question become rich sonic experiences. “Lips” represents one of these instances, opening with a choral interlude, suggesting–oddly, but joyously–Imogen Heap, providing for seemingly ripe source material for a cappella arrangements. With the direction in which The xx and popular music in general seem to be traveling, a marked spike in exposure would not be at all surprising.
There is a certain lushness and mellowness to the synths and vocals of I See You that make it a suitable candidate for this summer’s movie scores. The single “Say Something Loving” particularly alludes to this cinematic quality, with a wonderfully honest and consumable sound and a relatable sentiment, especially for young listeners: “I don’t know what this is, but it doesn’t feel wrong.” Similarly, closing track “Test Me” is more of a slow dance, opening with piano and vocal harmonies that gradually build up to the multidimensional complexity that we have come to expect from the outfit.
The two tracks which precede “Test Me” are, respectively, a breakup duet called “On Hold” and the lighter, head-bobbing, “I Dare You.” Both pieces help round out the album’s flow. It is unclear which came first: the pop-ish sound of albums like I See You appearing within indie circles, or mainstream pop’s frequent endeavors to instill its radio hits with indie qualities. Either way, with this new album, The xx are sure to ride the wave.