Perhaps there’s something about our generation that’s particularly drawn to sadness. Ask The xx — after all, this indie/introvert-electronica outfit have more or less set the tone for the distressed youth of our generation. Ever since their 2009 debut, the group currently consisting of Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie ‘xx’ Smith have been known to produce hauntingly beautiful anthems commemorating the Sturm und Drang you’d likely experience at the cusp of adulthood. Emerging into the scene during that tumultuous period themselves; tracing their evolution as individual artists or as a band is probably reason enough to look back and remind ourselves, that in spite of foolish pubescence, everything will be okay.
It doesn’t really matter whether or not you choose to dismiss this sentiment as mindless navel-gazing; or an attribute of the profound self-indulgence that continues to plague an entire generation. As it turns out, growing up in London during the latter half of the 80s into the millennium meant navigating adolescence through a period of drastic economic and political change. And as it tends to happen whenever sh*t doesn’t go as planned, people start making Noise. Sonically, the period bore witness to the tension between the electronic music of the 80s and the reactionary grunge movement of the 90s. Britain remains just as — if not more confused than ever before. But as mythical creatures tend to do, The xx have risen amidst the ashes of their yesteryears.
During the 2010 General Election, BBC chose the understated instrumental ‘Intro’ to soundtrack their election coverage, a momentous move that crystallised the band’s far-reaching appeal and influence. They became the sound of the 21st century, their contemplative silence an elegy to contemporary malaise. On stage, they perform with quiet intensity, although the chemistry between them is so bewilderingly strong it’s as if the audience ceases to exist, if not just for a moment.
But having built their entire success within their shell — two albums in and numerous sell-out shows later — it comes to a point where any artist would have to re-evaluate their work, sonically and lyrically. It is usually during this stage that many careers tend to falter. But not The xx, whose latest offering I See You is a realisation of that.
At first listen, the record is unabashedly richer. It’s The xx: revamped; and a lot of the credit can be given to resident record maestro Jamie xx, whose groundbreaking solo success with In colour has introduced the band’s deadpan quality to a brave new world of offbeat synths and samples. Tracks like Dangerous, On Hold and Lips showcase the band’s shift into unchartered musical territories, offering ear-worms in the form of lusher bass-lines, horn blasts and dancehall beats. But rest assured, the trademark melancholy is still there: textures and beats offer a drastically altered landscape that serves to cushion Croft and Sim’s haunting vocals as they croon with immense lyrical maturity and personal growth. Both vocalists have come a long way, their lyrics speak of trials and tribulations with raw, direct honesty rather than in mumbled, vague impressions — as you do in your youth, and they have.
While Co-exist saw The xx struggling to be themselves, I See You is a studied reflection of how far they’ve come as a band, and who they’ve become as individuals. The xx have truly come into their own and that’s something to hold onto.