Unless your recent existence has been spent within theconfines of a soundproof rock, you’ll have been made aware of London synth pop trio Years & Years. The BBC Sound of 2015 winners made plenty of waves with singles such as Desire and King, the latter of which incorporates synth-based house and trance to an extent which makes you consider whether or not you’ve heard it 1,000 times before. Last week, the three-piece put out their debut album Communion. Read on for more.
Foundation opens the record on bass-driven arpeggios as frontman Olly Alexander sings about a failed relationship by means of clichéd metaphors. The song is dark and brooding, yet the autotune which cakes Alexander’s voice makes the whole thing quite hard on the ears in combination with forceful synths. Although the band states Radiohead as one of their influences, this is quite hard to hear on Communion. The closest that the band get to Radiohead is on Real, which encompasses an ambient intro with minimal background noise, each making way for pounding percussion. The background noises remain, adding an air of lightness to the song as it swirls in and around Alexander’s voice. “I think I’m into you” he sings in true RnB style, before asking, “Tell me what it is you want”. It’s by no means unique, but Real is definitely one example of Years & Years’ urban roots shining through from under the pop sheen. New single Shine, however, is a slow-paced electro ballad which could easily be a Sam Smith remix. It’s a disappointment, to be quite frank. This air of disappointment carries on into the bleeping synth melody and one-two drum beat of Take Shelter, which does little to distinguish itself from the rest of Communion. House synths in the chorus combine with an emphasis on percussive hi-hats and Alexander’s further altered vocals, leading into the groove heavy Worship. “I wanna worship all that you see” sings the frontman in his sickly sweet RnB style, with Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen’s instrumentals underpinning the whole affair.
For the most part, Communion sounds like a watered down version of Disclosure’s weakest tracks, which are subsequently thrown into a mixer with the latest version of Pop Party. It’s by no means serious music, although the record will still undoubtedly go to #1 this week. Piano centric ballad Eyes Shut comes across as the most generic song on the album, before Ties makes some attempt to sound interesting. The delay and reverb-laced synth/bass combination is quite appealing, yet Alexander’s cliché-filled lyrics eventually come along and ruin this. “I’m a dancer and you’re a spy; it’s so beautiful to see you lie” he sings robotically, almost being at one with the actual instruments. Smash hit King follows, complete with a trance-meets-house vibe ready to dominate PA systems all across Ibiza this summer. It may be Years & Years’ most popular track, but it’s also the most generic and disappointing song on the whole Communion. Although the record is significantly devoid of any highlights, songs like Ties still portray a glimmer of hope in and amongst the mess that is modern day chart pop. Desire and Gold both flitter along with ease, aided by club synths and huge choruses, before electro ballad Without heads back down a more alternative path, instrumentally similar to Flying Lotus. It’s here, three songs from the end that Communion seems to have taken a whack to the head which has affected its overall quality. Unlike your average pop album, which decreases in quality throughout, Communion has remained stagnant and not changed in quality over its course. Penultimate track Border aims to present a glimpse of optimism as euphoric chords accompany Alexander’s voice, before album closer Memo incorporates some more Sam Smith-via-Disclosure balladry by means of demure piano and electro handclap beats. The track has a lot of potential to explode and enter power ballad status, yet instead it remains at a static pace and ends Communion like a fart in the wind.
It’s a shame that, after all these years, this is what we can now call popular music. This isn’t a dig at “real instruments” or “autotune”; rather, it’s a heartfelt expression of disappointment at the way that music has become so un-spontaneous, simple and ‘boring’. There used to be a time where popular music was exciting and kept you listening, but that time is gone. Years & Years are undoubtedly going to be massive, which is a massive shame as Communion is predominantly RnB-driven pop drivel for the masses.