To say Years & Years have had a meteoric year is an understatement. Read any article regarding them here on PearShaped and there is mention of their almost overnight list of achievements and accolades. The electro-pop trio have had chart-topping success with the irrepressibly infectious King; played a packed out John Peel stage at Glastonbury; won the BBC’s Sound of 2015 title, fending off competition from the likes of James Bay and Wolf Alice; and now have released a number one album. All this and we are only in July! Indeed, not long ago I noted their instant appeal when the relatively unknown band supported Clean Bandit’s tour. Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen’s success has been pretty staggering and they can seem to do no wrong at the moment. So how does their debut Communion bear up as the coalescence of all their hard work and hype?
On the one hand, Communion is a deeply personal compendium of Alexander’s painful, lusty anxieties, with unrequited attraction scribbled across its lyrics. It has an encouraging nod in the direction of the poetical compared to mainstream pop’s menagerie of not-even-thinly-veiled-anymore sexual proposals. The songs reveal the tender and vulnerable side to the boyish singer’s youthful gay angst, which in Years & Years’ openness is another refreshing touch. Grinding rhythms subtly underpin the sexual energy of Take Shelter which demonstrates these moments of self doubt, “I have to close my eyes/ I’m shy / Can I be what you like?” Olly gently pines. While the beat-less pulsations of opener Foundation are layered with exigent vocals in a similarly self-deprecating way, “…. all the things I want I shouldn’t get”. This lyrical emotional quality contrasts nicely with the sunny pop exterior the songs are cocooned in, offering an intimacy hard to find in electronic music. Yet there are also moments when the two match each other’s sentiments. While Eyes Shut offers an anthemically charged ballad, Memo drops the pace of the record to a piano heavy closing number, thus showing Olly’s serious side. But that’s not to say every track is miserable. Single Shine sparkles with puppy-like excitement over the euphoria of finding love, “It’s you I’ve been waiting to find”, complete with a heart-pounding 808 backdrop.
However Communion has been criticised for being merely a collection of vanilla pop songs, lacking in sonic originality. Indeed the record fails to push any musical boundaries for the discerning hipster and Years & Years’ sound is simple and generic. Yet for me, Communion is a solid collection of impeccably polished pop tracks that hits the sweet spot between the 80’s electro and 90’s house resurgence sound, with all the “oohs” and “aahs” in just the right places. There may be those who feel these might diminish some songs’ integrity by distracting the listener from the emotional subtleties the lyrics offer. But their melodies, if slightly obvious, are absolutely fool proof. There isn’t a chorus on the album you wouldn’t be able sing along to. And that’s where the album’s thematic magic happens. It’s as though Years & Years fulfil the album’s title by hypnotising us into performing an act of communion by singing along right on the dance floor. The throbbing Ties melts into a sonic potion of enthralling sound, while Desire pulsates with an unshakeable vitality and Gold shimmers with a rafter-reaching chorus. If there is one thing these boys can do, it’s write a flawless hook.
The club-ready pop sheen of Communion is a thoroughly enjoyable affair. It bounds through enticing hooks and fizzy enthusiasm with astounding confidence for a debut. Sure, their style hasn’t yet developed to mark them as truly standout, but the infusion of dance floor urges with up beat anguish makes the record a fresh take on the exuberant electro-pop genre and offers a propitious future for the band.