The xx unable to reach full potential

Ben Olson, staff reporter

The xx are an unusual band. They’re way too pop to be indie and way too indie to be pop. They should’ve died out a long time ago. Yet, both popists and indieheads continue to enjoy the synth-lead music of Jamie Smith and the ethereal vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. They fuse indie pop, R&B, electronica, dream pop and even hints of post-punk in their sound, something that has been done before, but not perfectly executed like the trio has.

In their third album, I See You, the first in four years, the band pushes boundaries, but not enough to reach their full potential. “Dangerous” opens up with the sound of trumpets, signaling a triumphant return. Unlike their self-titled album, Coexist, which dabbled in minimal synth, we hear more of Smith’s UK Bass sound on his 2015 debut, In Colour, on this song and throughout.

The closest thing we get to that is the lead single, “On Hold.” The signature bass & clap rhythm layered with a well-placed Hall & Oates sample are all present. But while In Colour was a mostly lighthearted, fun album, the lyrics here express more somber feelings. Sim experiences his relationship like a telephone call, singing how he thought his lover was just “on hold,” when in reality, she just hung up on him.

“Replica” takes a stab at the fame that The xx has brought. “Feels like the song’s already been sung,” expresses Sim on the difficulty of creating a compelling and original song without it being a “replica” of the past work.

“A Violent Noise,” while not a complete copy, is definitely a throwback to their work eight years ago. Here, they lean more on the minimal synth tones than a bassline and this is a clear highlight from this album.

However, there are quite a bit of failed ideas here, mainly “Lips” and “I Dare You,” the latter being one of the worst songs they’ve ever released. It lacks memorability and catchiness, something they’re known for.

“Test Me” luckily closes the album on a high note, featuring the first voice performance from Smith. The horns present in the very beginning of the album are looped and slowed down through a piano and high frequencies to form their most creative song yet. If this song demonstrates what The xx are capable of, then their next release will top the charts in 2023.