It's been awhile since we heard from the Wandsworth trio. Four years and eight months to be moderately exact. Almost five years to be even less exact. I can get even less vague if you'd like? You wouldn't? Cool cool, coolcoolcool. The xx are a wholly unique entity. Their debut, 2009's xx, was, and I apologize for how dramatic this sounds, unforgettable. Their 2012 followup Coexist has, over time, become one of my favorite albums ever. So you can imagine my joy when I heard that 2017 would bring us a gift that would, if it followed in the footsteps of the previous two, keep on giving. Will that be the case? To be as ambiguous as possible, maybe? What I feel right now says it will. One thing is for sure, this isn't the band we've come to know, they've evolved, and I'm excited to tag along.
2009 was probably the year where I truly came into my own in terms of how I consumed and appreciated music. A major part of that was the music that came out that year, how it both shaped and propelled me into who I was as a listener, a definition that is constantly being redefined. While I won't get into 2009 as a whole, I will say that The xx's xx played a large role. It was a moody, minimalist effort that stood almost entirely on the shoulders of the atmosphere it created. From the opening track, the appropriately titled "Intro," you knew you were about to get swept up into...something, something that would reveal itself fully over the course of the next 38 minutes. In my review of SOHN's Rennen I touched on how, when you love an artist's previous album, it makes it all the more difficult to find your way through the followup, no matter how good it may be, and that was the case with Coexist. Over time that would change, and in a big way.
Coexist is one of my favorite albums. While it's true it was met with less affection than it's predecessor, I'd imagine those affections have grown considerably, because that's what happened to me. I didn't fully appreciate Coexist for the first few years following it's release. You read that correctly by the way, I said years. Initially I slipped back under the spell of xx, and as time passed I moved on to new albums, artists, habits, etc. Then one day (I promise I'll keep this short) I was somewhere and heard "Missing" playing over the speakers and I remember how much I dug the track so I revisited the record that day and I "got it." Time will do that. It removes the anticipation and hype and allows you to take in whatever it is with an open mind. Coexist featured a fuller sound, more controlled, less sparing, making it a more specific accomplishment. Part of me wanted to use "masterpiece," but after Jamie Smith (the non vocal third of The xx) aka Jamie xx's solo debut, 2015's In Colour, I realized it's possible that they haven't even touched the surface of what they're capable of.
That surface I just spoke about? I See You touches it, a feat accomplished by tampering with the tempo and structure of their previous releases. The switch is a welcome one, and despite the hiccups, which are minimal, the record shines brightly, carrying the potential to eventually outshine the previous two. The feel is different, you'll hear it right from the start as Jamie's In Colour production oozes out the pours. Even their natural downtempo style has evolved to something greater ("Lips" and the closer "Test Me" are gems). One of my favorite things here is that it's still very much under the umbrella of what they brought to the table previously in terms of uniqueness. I think the main reason for that is that no matter where Jamie's sounds takes us, Romy and Oliver's vocals will always remind us where we are. Their quiet, monotone, often broken delivery provides so much emotion and vulnerability that you can't help but be sucked in. The pair's chemistry is identifiable on every track, and the wholly unique tone is what separates them from similar acts.
Coexist sought to strengthen and perfect the atmosphere created on xx, I See You sheds that skin, manipulating and expanding their sound on all fronts, opening doors I didn't know they were knocking on. So while they still dwell in the shadows with tracks like "Performance," which brings back the extreme minimalism of it's predecessors, it's the lively tracks like "On Hold" (my favorite on the record) that prove to us that they're still on their way up. How high they climb depends solely on how far they themselves are willing to explore. I hope they do continue to push, because I'm fascinated, I'm in.