Back when they formed as teenagers in the mid-00s, The xx’s early interviews and gigs were defined by their anxiousness. They admitted that they never dreamt of, nor searched for, fame. On stage, dressed in black as if to blend in with the shadows, they struggled to make eye contact with the crowd. To them, the oncoming limelight looked terrifyingly bright. Their self-titled debut was the embodiment of their meekness. Sparse, alluring and refreshingly new, it also turned out to be massive. By the time 2012 follow-up ‘Co-exist’ arrived there were flickers of confidence – like the trio were finally inching themselves into their stardom as if it was a steaming hot bath.
Five years away and their self-belief has transformed. As people, but also in their songwriting. Romy Madley Croft challenged herself by taking part in pop songwriting camps in LA. Along with his production work for Drake and Alicia Keys, Jamie’s solo debut ‘In Colour’ earned him a Mercury Prize nomination and a series of huge sold-out shows. On ‘I See You’ we meet a new tactile version of The xx. They’re relaxed, warm, joyful even. They admit it themselves: “I really enjoyed not feeling so clenched,” says Romy about the process. And you can feel it from the first euphoric note on ‘Dangerous’. A blast of synthetic horns gives way to a Burial-esque beat and Oli Sim and Romy harmonising on a shuffling chorus straight from a ’90s garage rave, “You are dangerous but I don’t care/I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.” The vibrancy continues. ‘Say Something’ is lush and glowing. ‘A Violet Noise’ is Oli singing over a Euro-house backbone and the Hall & Oates sampling lead single ‘Hold On’, come summer, will sound huge in the festival fields.
They find a balance with the old xx though. Fragility and self-doubt are still themes. Indeed, the highlight is Romy’s pensive, vulnerable ballad ‘Performance’. “I’ll put on a performance/I’ll put on a brave face,” she confesses, accompanied by a single, guitar and scurrying violins. ‘I See You’ is not simply an album then, but a moment of realisation. The moment where The xx stop glancing shyly at their reflection and confront themselves in the mirror. What they discover is infectious.