Chart toppers turn in a pop-fuelled debut with a twist of… oh, what is it?
When we first set ears on London three-piece Years & Years, we immediately liked the jaunty cut of their jib, but we couldn’t quite put a finger on why.
Tipped for big things, keyboarding frontman Olly Alexander, basser Mikey Goldsworthy and synthesist Emre Turkmen (ably assisted by live drummer Dylan Bell) picked up the BBC’s Sound of 2015 award, not to mention a far more prestigious Electronic Sound 50 For 2015 nod. Six months later, whomph, a Number One single in the shape of ‘King’. Being your usual narrow-minded music hack, I am of course immune to the Number One hits. Curses.
Listening to ‘Communion’, Years & Years’ debut album, you can really start to unpick the appeal. They clearly aren’t your usual mainstream fodder. Theirs is a sound that harks back to the borderlands of the 80s and the sort of outfits you’d all but forgotten – The Lotus Eaters, The Fixx, Fiction Factory, Leisure Process… That said, the opener, ‘Foundation’, is a head-scratcher. A slow, moody synth gently oscillates, but it’s all about Alexander’s pipes. When he opens right up, as he does here, it sounds like Bros. Bros! Which is a little too 80s raw.
If you look at the 80s revival scene in the round, by rights Years & Years should be feeding on pastures much lower down the commercial music mountain. But here they are, front and centre, limelight turned up to 11, with music that’d barely have grazed elbows in the 80s let alone the charts. So what gives? Listening to the whole album, that thing we couldn’t put our finger on? Put our finger on it, haven’t we.
What they’ve done is crashed borderland 80s into early 90s rave. And what a brew. Think SL2’s ‘Way In My Brain’, Bassheads’ ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’, Bizarre Inc’s ‘Playing With Knives’, K-Klass’ ‘Rhythm Is A Mystery’, mix it with that pop-synth tinge, et voila.
It’s proper, this. Their references are spot on. The result is a tune-fuelled, big-selling outfit with the sort of substance that makes people with decent hearing listen up. The long and short of it is you’ll need a heart made of old string and bird shit not to like the deep, warm thrum and rich, stabby synths that are wall to wall throughout. No wonder their record label were eager to get this one out of the traps.
‘Real’ is a true pop dazzler and ‘Shine’, their second Number One, is one of those songs you’re sure you’ve heard before, such is the infection. You don’t so much hear it as catch it. ‘Worship’ is a total sing-along hands-in-the-air anthem. Of the whole lot, ‘Desire’ is perhaps the standout by a nose. It’s clear why this is the track that grabbed everyone’s attention late last year and started the ball rolling.
For the most part, ‘Communion’ is a euphoric grin of a record. And now the penny has dropped, we know why. Choppy synth at night? Ravers’ delight. Years & Years, we salute you.