I See You is a therapeutic session between two physical lovers, characters played by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, spilling their impunity over each other, and at themselves, in hopes of working things out. It’s dangerous from the get-go when they refuse to accept any warnings made by third parties. Once the celebratory horns dissolve, the anxiety of love and possible commitment issues begin to distract them from easily fusing their lives together. All this during which Jamie Smith (better known as Jamie xx) produces electronic harmonies, more so than before, that match their ricocheting emotions. The 10-track LP moves away from an only instrumental set-up, in favor of loud bass and sampling. An inevitable move by Jamie after releasing a heavy electronic solo effort during The xx 4-year hiatus.
It’s especially energetic in “Dangerous” when a rhythmic bass line and funky beat optimistically introduces the longing duo. It’s a needed precursor to the following track, when everything about their love seems to fall apart almost immediately.
“Say Something Loving” profoundly finds the two vocalists at opposite ends, carefully trying not to lose each other. Jamie’s lighter productions pushes against the heartbreaking “I just don’t remember the thrill of affection.” There’s a maturity—it could’ve been a lot worse—and restraint from fighting that keeps the story going and worth listening.
The next track, “Lips,” sets an intimate scene over knocking wood that preys on the force of lust. It’s an upside to know the attraction is still there, whether or not they always use it to sustain the relationship. Interestingly, the inclusion of Jamie and their career milestone together through the line “chemistry is rare in a two, three time affair,” shows the producer as more than just an invisible maestro.
The two are having difficulties. But “A Violent Noise” places Oliver as the one who is completely lost. It will be a continuous trend to hear Romy act as the spectator while he openly loses it. The girl is the stronger one. It’s literal in the composition, as the bright bouncing synth becomes more chaotic in the chorus, and whenever he appears.
With an open-ending, “Test Me” questions whether they’re sticking together because they simply can’t live without each other or there’s a minimum amount of love to carry the two for long. Ironically, it comes to the point when there’s no need (or energy) for words. Jamie takes over, filling the rest of the end with dusky ambiance and high-pitched streaks of synth.
While the lyrics are perhaps too clear, the clarity in itself is refreshing. There’s a level of maturity both showcase by using proper language to explain their feelings. I See You is practically a musical version of Before Midnight, which also ends obscurely. There’s a great deal of talk with both sides making impactful arguments; but it was also difficult for those movie characters one-sidedness to win outright without empathy and compromise. It’s a persistent imbalance that may never be solved. On the other hand, for Jamie it’s a complete slide past the limitations he created for himself before. He finally opens up without losing much subtlety. If anything, it is he who experiences the final breakthrough. GREAT.