The band the xx has made some incredibly boring music in the past. I found that the group’s last two albums, the 2009 self-titled debut and “Coexist,” were absolute snore-fests. Not only was their music unexciting, but the style of soft pop they were going for was and has been done better by artists ranging from Arcade Fire to FKA Twigs–there wasn’t anything to set them apart from these artists’ quieter tracks.
Not to say that all boring music is bad, it’s just that the type of music the xx made on their past two albums never brought anything new to the table. Their music went in one ear and out the other; it never left any impressions on me.
I can find no better proof of how this uninspired music brings the group down than on their new album “I See You.” There are genuine moments of greatness on this album, but these moments are utterly hampered by a plethora of derivative tracks that make this 39-minute album feel like an hour.
For those who don’t know, the xx consists of vocalists/instrumentalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim and producer Jamie “xx” Smith. You might have heard of Jamie xx before from his awesome electronic-album “In Colour” from 2015.
One thing that I really loved about “In Colour” that I hoped would carry over into this new album was how it managed to be more energetic than the xx’s previous work, while still being a very relaxed album. Yet, the soft, soothing voices were all too apparent, and did nothing to ease my fears.
It’s hard to say whether the album as a whole accomplishes this feat. There are some undeniable high-points on this album, mainly the tracks “Say Something Loving,” “A Violent Noise,” and “On Hold.” These tracks are great examples of what this band can do really well. The rest of this album, however, is just a boring, dull slog.
First up: the bad. The bad is that a good portion of this album is bland and derivative.
Over half of the album, from the track “Performance” to the closer “Test Me” (with the exception of the track “On Hold”) were songs that I felt sounded very bland and uninspired compared to the opening tracks.
The trio of songs “Performance,” “Replica” and “Brave For You” are easily this album’s worst stretch. These songs could have been cut from this album and I would’ve happily given a 27-minute EP a higher score.
It’s like the xx haphazardly combined some whispered cliché lyrics with some quiet, down-tempo instrumentals, listened to it once and said, “Yeah, this sounds like something we put out on the last album,” and then didn’t touch the song again. These songs lack meaningful progression, sound utterly similar and pale in comparison to the other tracks on this album.
Then there are the tracks that bring a little bit more to the table, but are they still hindered by the xx’s derivative style of making music. “Lips” is one such track that comes so close to being a great song, but just misses the mark for me.
I love the cool, echo-y instrumental on this track with this synth that sounds like it’s being revved up like a lawnmower engine. At first, the vocals sound nice with the instrumental, but the more I listen to this track, the more I feel like the vocals just get in the way of everything else.
The lyrics on this track, like the majority of the songs from this album, are simply clichéd and mindless. They just feel like filler.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the only reason tracks like these were even given lyrics in the first place is because the members of the xx feel as if they have to put lyrics over instrumental tracks to justify their existence as bona-fide songs.
This is something that I saw Jamie xx’s “In Color” pushing against by being able to set a mood on the album as a whole with a minimal use of vocals.
If this is the case, why am I even reviewing this album if I like “In Colour” so much more than this? Well, I mentioned earlier that there are good parts to this album, and I would be remiss if I did not to mention how much I did enjoy it.
When Romy and Oliver actually bring their A-game, the band proves that there is something to their music worth pursuing. The xx can really hit gold and produce some great tracks, like “Say Something Loving,” “On Hold” and “Violent Noise.”
The track “Say Something Loving” is hands-down my favorite track on the album. The track sees Romy and Oliver trading verses and sharing a chorus over a stellar instrumental, a great use of a vocal sample from an Alessi Brothers track.
Despite the song’s lyrics being clichéd for the xx, the execution makes up for its lack of originality. The track is about anxiously chasing affection, of not letting moments be lost to that folder in our heads labeled, “What if?,” and the xx delivered. This track is excellent.
And if the rest of the album was as excellent as this track? But that’s just another one of those “What ifs?” this track is about. Instead, this track is one of three outliers among the norm (the other two tracks I mentioned, “On Hold” and “Violent Noise,” are also well worth your time).
Unfortunately, the xx delivered another album that was the status quo for them. An album that is mainly boring, airy, whispery and dull. But there is a handful of tracks that point towards a promising picture of what the xx’s music could be. In the meantime, I hope Jamie xx releases another solo project.