In music and love, routine can be deadly. The exquisite stillness of the xx's music was so distinctive and influential that, by the time of Coexist, it felt dangerously close to confining them instead of defining them. Given the half decade between that album and I See You, change wasn't just necessary, it was inevitable. Jamie xx's solo work signaled that something different was on the way, and in retrospect, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim's cameos on In Colour feel like previews for these songs about being musically and romantically bold. I See You unleashes the xx's passion with swifter tempos, fuller arrangements, and a newfound heat in Sim and Croft's vocals on songs like "On Hold," which also showcases Jamie xx's audacious production skills as he turns a snippet of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" into an irresistibly jittery hook. The band's commitment to taking chances reaps rewards elsewhere: "Dangerous" kicks off I See You with a brass fanfare that's about as far as the xx can get from the plaintive seduction of their early work. Indeed, the album's happiest songs are among the best, whether Sim and Croft are falling in love all over again over contrail guitars on "Say Something Loving" or letting a relentless beat give their flirtation momentum on "I Dare You." When the xx pare back, they do it with purpose, and still find subtle ways to push themselves. In another act's hands, the propulsive self-doubt of "A Violent Noise" would be a club banger, but they opt for simmering tension instead of drops and peaks. Croft shows off her seldom-heard upper register on "Lips" and "Performance," one of several moments on I See You where the band's self-awareness borders on meta. Sometimes, this becomes too literal and repetitive; as enjoyable as the sultry swagger of "Replica" and heartfelt balladry of "Brave for You" are, it's hard to shake the feeling that the xx are retracing their steps. Nitpicking aside, the risks they take on this album pay off: I See You is some of their most captivating music since their debut. ~ Heather Phares
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