Years & Years’ ‘Communion’: Album Review

Bianca Gracie | July 10, 2015 5:25 am
Years & Years: Idolator Interview
We grabbed some time with the trio in Austin, during SXSW.

When it came to finding genuine and smart pop this year, we honestly had no choice but to leave America behind and look overseas for inspirational bliss — specifically the UK. One act that stood out among the talented handful was London’s own Years & Years. The electronic dance trio (comprised of frontman Olly Alexander, synth player Emre Turkmen and bassist Mikey Goldsworthy) won BBC’s Sound Of 2015 poll, and have since sparked an international buzz.

Today (), the release of Years & Years’ debut Communion LP shows just why they deserve a place in the forefront of pop’s rising generation. The album takes a complete turn from the expected gushy and predictable “Let’s party!” vibe that is currently ruling pop, and provides the listener with smartly framed themes that is emotionally unfiltered.

The album kicks off in an unexpectedly somber way, thanks to “Foundation.” The vacant downtempo is surprisingly chilled and ominous — which is a complete opposition to Communion‘s usually-vibrant tone. A theme of submissiveness that runs throughout the LP is also quickly introduced, with Alexander singing “If I triumph, are you watching?/ Can you separate everything for me?/ You used to work me out/ But you never worked it out for me” over the sparse yet weeping production.

The mood picks up ever so slightly with “Real” — a fan favorite that was first heard last February. (In essence, this is where the problem lies with Communion. There is no taking away the strength of the previously heard tracks, but what is there to look forward to if you’ve already know more than half of an album prior to its release? The element of surprise is lacking.)

But back to “Real,” whose title reflects the song’s tone perfectly. The lyrics are heartbreakingly relatable, with Olly willing to do anything it takes to please his lover — despite the relationship being no good. “Take Shelter” is one of the more minimal tracks off the LP, but it serves as a major sonic highlight. In the midst of the sometimes-overwhelmingly poppy sounds ruling the charts, this song finds Years & Years taking a refreshing and mellow turn — thanks to the beautifully lush and subtly sexy reggae influences.

But the weaker moments of the album come in the form of — no surprise here — ballads. It is difficult to make a slow song interesting, and skippable tracks like “Eyes Shut” and “Gold” fall into that trap. They have too much of a similar blueprint to the previous songs found both on the LP and what’s currently playing on radio, which doesn’t help them to stand out. At this point of listening, there is a little too much of a mainstream-friendly gloss that needed to be broken in order for Communion to reach greater heights.

Yet “Ties” gladly rushes in to break up the predictability of the previous dances tunes with a sharp injection of ’90s-influenced electronica with a tinge of a rocker edge. But the angst doesn’t last for long, as “King” kicks in with a vibrant energy. This single is now certified Platinum in the UK and Australia — and for good reason. The lively, upbeat track (which becomes even more fun when performed on stage) is wonderfully catchy. Olly’s oft-shy vocals are now bolder and matches the production’s pulsating and bright synths.

What makes Years & Years so distinctive is the way they combine charming pop synths with truly emotive lyrics, which makes their music more attainable. In comes in “Desire,” the track — which we called a “future hit” — that first caught our attention back in November. “Give me that rush/ I want to show you what you’ve been missing/ Am I enough to keep your other lovers hidden,” Olly sings as he reveals his relatable insecurities over an in-your-face, ’90s-inspired house beat. “Worship” is yet another Communion highlight and definitely one of its catchiest tunes, as it embodies the theme of questionable self-worth that runs throughout the album with Olly crooning ever so delicately about “blind devotion” over tingling electronics.

With their debut Communion album, Years & Years thankfully tear down the borderline banal nature of current pop with their shameless vulnerability. Despite having a few sonically static movements that could have used more grit, there is an undercurrent of darkness that is masked below the album’s sparkling electronic surface. The pulling-at-the-arm kind of dependency flooded throughout the album is commendable, as it is a type of honesty that has been somewhat rare in pop so far in 2015 (except for saving graces like Brandon Flowers‘ overlooked The Desired Effect LP and Marina and the Diamonds‘ Froot). Communion is just an exciting taste of the trio’s potential, as they will no doubt grow and dig deeper in their emotions for years (& years) to come.

Idolator Score: 3/5

— Bianca Gracie

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