In 2009, London dream pop act The xx released their self-titled debut, and it was met with a positive reception. It was thirty-eight minutes of hazy soundscapes peppered with gentle guitar melodies and laid-back dueling vocals. It wasn’t revolutionary, but there also wasn’t a whole lot like it in the mainstream. The 2012 follow-up, Coexist, was a step down, and the band plunged into mediocrity from that point on, trapped in their dream pop bubble.
With the January 13th release I See You, the group’s first record since 2012, the downward spiral continues with failed attempts to evolve. The xx appear to be trying to emulate the success and sound of In Colour, a fantastic 2015 album by their producer Jamie xx, with spacier sounds and heavier bass. It wants you to dance a little, but I just want to nap.
I See You actually starts out with its strongest track, “Dangerous,” and it is probably so good because it sounds like a Jamie xx song rather than one from the band. Its triumphant horn sections are exciting, and it feels like The xx has actually evolved with a new sound that feels fresh yet still at home with the vibe of their first album.
The quality drops immediately with a string of painfully mediocre songs, each one more forgettable than the last. They nearly all have the same formula: play a simple guitar line, add in some dreary synths, drop a classically British beat drenched in reverb, and sing in a monotone voice. Maybe throw in some piano here and there just to create an illusion of variety.
The most bizarre aspect of the album is the song “On Hold,” which was released as the lead single. It starts off just like any other xx song, but during the chorus an obnoxious, pitch-corrected, sampled voice appears. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the dreary pop atmosphere, sounding like it belongs on a teenager’s SoundCloud page rather than on a major record release.
The lyrics are just as boring as the music. It oftens feels like the words sung by lead singers Romy Croft and Oliver Sim were designed to be shared on Tumblr as “deep” thoughts meandering through the tired theme of love, particularly on the song “Lips” (Your air in my lungs / Drowned in oxygen / Now you’ve set the scene / High on intimacy / Drawing me above). Truly an anthem for middle school dances.
Overall, I See You is certainly not horrible. It is excruciatingly average. I had to listen to it four or five times before gathering my thoughts about it
, not because I was intrigued, but because I kept forgetting about what just happened. Listening to I See You is like drinking an entire bottle of NyQuil before watching An Inconvenient Truth and standing in line at the Rand post office. Listen to In Colour instead.
Key Track: “Dangerous”