It should be a cliché by this point, but it’s too true to overlook: the xx throw a gauntlet with the opening of their brilliant – and best – new album I See You, as triumphant, communal horns on the opening “Dangerous” directly oppose the isolated, beaten path the band surveyed on their first two albums, their great self-titled LP and the lesser (if not just as pleasant) followup Coexist. Co-vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim are equally optimistic, unfettered on the opening “Dangerous,” setting the stage for the group’s most adventurous album to date.
“Lips” taunts with its surprising swagger while “A Violent Noise” haunts with its possessive silence. “Performance,” “Brave for You” and “I Dare You” are anchored by Madley Croft’s forlorn, controlled performances, while prerelease singles “On Hold” and “Say Something Loving” are the best showcases of the interconnectedness of the band, as producer Jamie Smith, Madley Croft and Sim each bring vital intangibles to make each song tick. On album highlight “Replica,” Sim best solidifies what makes I See You the band’s most fruitful album. “Mirroring situations, accurate imitation, Do I watch and repeat,” he questions on the chorus. The band continues with their warmest, most vibrant album to date. So no, Sim and the rest of the xx do not “watch and repeat.” I See You is the xx at their most crystallized, the perfect distillation and progression of their sound.