The xx occupy a very cool sweet spot. They’ve become hugely popular yet aren’t one of those acts that you’re sick of. Their synths are strong enough to appeal to EDM lovers, their beats capable enough for hip-hop and R&B fans, yet in neither case so overdone as to put off others. They’ve got a cool appeal that isn’t too cool for school. They’re finely crafted without feeling over-crafted. I See You displays this.
Throughout the new record, the trio is smooth, yet don’t let that play substitute for meaning. Opener “Dangerous” maybe does the cool best, a dance track that also works away from the club. “Performance” and “Replica” are stripped down to haunting, effective loss, but work back-to-back on I See You, as the former features Oliver Sim’s deeper voice, the latter Romy Madley Croft’s higher sadness – meanwhile, the group can also do loving (single “Say Something Loving”) and brighter reach (“I Dare You”). While some tracks play relatively simply, there’s also the interesting mix of xx styles in single “On Hold”.
The xx experienced rapid success, and it could have gone to their heads. They could have embraced the excesses of the synthesized dance floor, or crawled into their own über-artiste heads. Instead, they manage to be both cool and uncertain at the same time, widening their appeal without making it shallow.