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The xx’s new album shifts into new but familiar territory

For the first time in nearly five years, The xx has released an album, titled “I See You.” It might be the band’s greatest release to date, but it’s definitely a bit of a shift from what it’s done earlier.

The xx first became popular after the release of its self-titled debut album, where its sound took the alternative music scene by storm. The band followed that up with its 2012 album, “Coexist” which didn’t exactly become as widely appreciated. Both albums, however, led to the rise in fame of the band’s producer, Jamie xx. He decided to pursue a solo career due to divergent interests and aspirations from the rest of the trio.

Jamie xx’s solo singles, and eventual album, displayed his ambition, most notably exploring the practice of sampling. The xx has always stayed within the limitations of the rhythm and blues/indie pop combination that made its debut so great. Sticking to that particular sound, though, is what made “Coexist” underwhelming.

However, the trio’s latest album is its best yet. Instead of staying within its self-imposed style limitations, it decided to combine all of the members’ interests, which included Jamie xx’s use of sampling that he perfected over his solo career. Each member was encouraged to musically express themselves however they pleased. This is evident in the group’s new sound. When each member of a band is allowed to be the fullest, most genuine version of themselves, great things happen. They stick to their roots, but explore different sounds and genres in addition.

The band’s lyrical style typically focuses on heartbreak, thus the band’s general sound is melancholic. The lead singers’ voices have little range and depth, which is appropriate if the subject of the songs is sad, as it has proven to be over the previous albums.

But the singers have since grown as vocalists. They still only have very little vocal power, but they make it work, being very careful about the pronunciation and emphasis of different words. This adds specific meanings to lines that would have been meaningless if the singers had remained monotonous. Some songs sound as though they are directed at another person, and others sound as though they are directed at themselves. The vocalization and careful word choice is how they make the difference clear to the listener.

You might find The xx a bit boring after the last album, but this one is worth hearing. The members of The xx have finally made their passion for the craft clear, and music is so much better when you know a band is passionate about what it’s doing.

For big fans of the band that prefer tradition, though, there is some bad news. With this new experimental sound, The xx has steered away from only sticking to music they can perform live. This album is filled with synthetic sounds that could change the dynamic of their live show.

That’s not to say the band’s done performing though. Rather, its live sound is steering away from solely performing, instead moving toward playing back synthetic sounds in addition to its performances. If you can embrace a band changing and maturing, though, this is all very exciting.

You can catch The xx this May at the Boston Calling music festival, as well as Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella.

This is a big year for The xx, and the group may finally be coming back around to being the unique, passionate band that alternative music fans and critics came to love back in 2009 with its debut. They will be touring all around Europe and the U.S. for the better part of the first half of 2017, and it will be interesting to watch the band embrace this new sound and maturity.

Jenny Bourque is a freshman English and textual studies major. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. You can email her at jabourqu@syr.edu.

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