It's easy, even on first listen, to hear the influence of percussionist and producer Jamie xx (born Smith) on songs like "Dangerous," "Say Something Loving" and first single "On Hold." Samples — referred to by The xx in interview as Jamie's "voice" — feature more prominently than ever, and percussion plays a far more central role, rendering some of these songs outright danceable.
I See You is characterized by ambition and growth throughout. The songwriting of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim, for one, is more dynamic than on past releases: "On Hold" starts as a ballad, but quickly becomes a clicking dance track; on "Replica," the two interact vocally in a way that they typically haven't, singing complementary melodies and countermelodies simultaneously instead of their typical call-and-response; the stark "Performance," on which Madley-Croft is accompanied by a bass and little else, is beautiful enough that it might have worked a cappella. These might seem like small steps forward, but for a band that stripped their already-bare sound even further back on their delicate second album, they feel like giant leaps.
Even more dramatic is the shift in mood. For the first time on record, The xx sound happy. Lyrics about growing and taking a chance, especially, resonate throughout "Dangerous," "Say Something Loving" and "I Dare You," further substantiating the already-palpable sense of ambition here.
Ambition come with danger — by reaching beyond their trademark minimalist sound, the band risked losing that which distinguished them in the first place, and they don't quite experiment enough to make this record truly challenging or transcendent — but The xx largely avoided any major pitfalls here, coming out the other side with a consistently rewarding pop album that retains enough of their sonic signature to please old fans and enough new sounds to pique the interest of the unconvinced.
More importantly, it marks the way forward for a band that might have otherwise found themselves trapped by self-imposed limitations. I See You points the way forward for The xx, who sound like they've finally seen the light. (Young Turks)