It's been four and a half years since The xx released Coexist, an album of barren, wounded ballads that drew their dramatic tension from the air between notes. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim made the most of the suffocating sparseness, but after a while, Coexist cried out for a bit of catharsis.
Enter the far more dynamic I See You, on which the U.K. trio — Croft, Sim and producer Jamie xx, whose presence is felt throughout — greatly expands its palette to highlight a livelier assortment of sounds, from pop to gospel. I See You eventually makes way for lulling and familiar sounds in its second half, but even there, the tension gets released in the agreeable, sample-driven throb of "On Hold." Most importantly, The xx hasn't lost its flair for intimacy: Croft and Sim still find fresh ways to cut through flesh and strike nerves on their way to the heartstrings.