Release Date: Jul 10, 2015
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Oftentimes, archly avant-garde music can be so tastefully cerebral, you find yourself missing the sexy swing of traditional pop. Seamlessly bridging the gap with their 2015 debut Communion, London electronic trio Years & Years manage to artfully combine the ambient, '80s style synth-pop of M83 with the funky dancefloor grooves of Justin Timberlake. Produced by Mark Ralph and Two Inch Punch (Sam Smith, Jessie Ware), the album's appeal lies in the angelic melisma of frontman Olly Alexander.
Since heading up DIY’s Class Of as fresh-faced cover stars at the beginning of 2015, Years & Years’ light-speed rise has been stratospheric. From early single ‘Real’ - which the band released on early-adopting French label Kitsuné - to their major label debut ‘Take Shelter,’ and break-out radio hit ‘Desire,’ it’s all chronicled on ‘Communion,’ a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed joy of a debut album. ‘Communion’ finds togetherness and unity in its dancefloor euphoria, but Olly Alexander is frequently torn-up, pained, and lonely instead.
Whereas the BRIT Critics’ Choice award always proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, previous victors in the BBC’s annual ‘Sound Of’ new music poll have often collapsed under their own hype and failed to make their way into the public consciousness. 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka failed to convert his vast critical acclaim into substantial sales figures, and 2009 winner Little Boots recently made her live return at Hackney’s Oslo – a 400 capacity pub. Even with the leg up to the upper echelons of mainstream music Years & Years have already received, unlike James Bay, their ultimate success is dependent on a strong debut.
Almost all forms of music seek to speak, from time to time, of love, and from time to time of sex. But pop music stands alone in its obsession with their convergence point, where they become interchangeable or indistinguishable or simply confused with one another. "Is it desire, or is it love that I’m feeling for you?" Years & Years singer Olly Alexander asks, in characteristically dramatic fashion on "Desire", and the law of pop melodrama demands that the question go unanswered.
I recently had a 13 course meal. The best thing about this meal was that I loved every course, some a bit more than others. However, not a single course I had would go down in history as ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘wildly spectacular’. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. If every course gets it ….
Years & Years’ London-based frontman Olly Alexander spent his adolescent years as an actor, but his celestial synth-pop band’s debut full-length, Communion, suggests an occupation far more holy for the wiry and waifish 24-year-old. You may remember his curly mop making an appearance as a double-crossing drug addict in Gaspar Noé’s hallucinatory 2009 feature, Enter the Void, but his is a stabilizing presence amid this record’s flailing electronics. If not angelic, then Alexander’s something like an altar boy, his feather-light vocals delicately flickering like lonely votive candles surrounded by the trio’s fleshly fixations (both lyrical and instrumental) on the physical elements of the sacrament in question: the heaving body, the dripping blood.
A couple of questions for you. How often do you sing in the shower? If the answer is every day, do you expect it to lead to a meaningful pop career? Olly Alexander, singer with London trio Years & Years, could answer both in the affirmative. No doubt his falsetto tones carried over the rush of water when bassist Mikey Goldsworthy heard him at a friend’s house, establishing he was good enough to join the band.
The BBC’s Sound of … award is an annual event in which the great and the good of the music industry join hands in an act of mystical divination. They scry the crystals, examine the still-quivering entrails of slain sheep and call upon the Amengansi of Togo that the Vodun spirits may speak through them and reveal the future, before announcing to a stunned nation that what’s going to be big in the forthcoming year is something that sounds quite like the stuff that was big in the preceding year. Under the circumstances, you can see exactly why they plumped for Years & Years as 2015’s winners.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The road to Communion has been anything but straightforward for Years & Years. Initially formed after synth player Emre Turkmen answered bassist Mikey Goldsworthy online ad for a guitar player, frontman and keyboardist Olly Alexander was then added by a stroke of serendipity after Goldsworthy heard him singing in a mutual friend's shower.
So it turns out that 2015’s great pop hope, Years & Years’ Communion, is an exercise in patience. Patience in sticking with an album for ages, in the hope it will click. And Communion does eventually click… it just really seems to take its time getting there. There are vague hints at twisted relationships weaved throughout the album’s lyrics, such as ‘King’s "I was a king under your control” hook.
It is easy to be mistrustful of actors; faking it well is their business. As many will know, given the band’s handful of nagging singles – the ubiquitous, chart-topping King; the older but equally persistent Desire – Years & Years singer Olly Alexander first made his name on the small screen, as a stalker-ish photographer in Skins. (In mitigation, he also had a part in Skins’ antimatter, Stuart Murdoch’s film God Help the Girl.) The charge sheet doesn’t stop there.
Years & Years won the BBC Sound Of 2015 poll in January. Past winners include Sam Smith (the only artist to shift a million LPs in both the UK and US last year) and Adele (whose album ‘21’ is the decade’s highest selling so far). So it seems a foregone conclusion that this electro-pop trio, formed in London in 2010, will find huge success.Yet that remains the most arresting thing about them.
Pop needs its distillers, its translators, its flatteners. The path of an original idea from obscurity to ubiquity might be more frictionless than it once was, but often to reach the most ears possible, someone has to come in and polish it up, sand down the burrs. As work, it’s thankless, but not artless. You could almost argue that it’s noble: It helps reinforce an idea’s importance and influence through streamlining and amplification.