Monday, July 13, 2015

Communion | Years & Years

Let's be honest: the United Kingdom Singles Chart is a finicky little rascal. In a country where one plug from Annie Mac (or, in most cases before this year, Zane Lowe) can send a lucky act straight to the top of the charts, number one hits tend to be short-lived affairs; Last year alone, there were 38 separate number one singles in the UK, compared to the 10 that the US embraced. However, without that fickle chart, widespread attention would never have been piqued for acts like Kiesza, Clean Bandit, and most recently, Years & Years. The electronic trio was blasted to the summit after its single "King" was picked up as Zane Lowe's Hottest Record in January.

With the house and synthpop revitalization well underway in the England, it's no wonder the single was a success on the other side of the Atlantic. Its immersive synthpop production is speckled with a light touch of the '90s house style that helped boost Rudimental and Disclosure to their respective pedestals, and lead singer Olly Alexander's light-weight voice adds a perfect soothing finish. The trio's previous three singles "Real," "Take Shelter," and "Desire," and follow-up single "Shine" all share equally radiant qualities. With five strong singles all sharing very similar production styles, does the signature Years & Years style lose its potency when stretched across the band's 13-track full-length debut?

Surprisingly, not really. Maybe it's Alexander's voice, which adds an element of humanness to a genre a music that is so often slammed for being stripped of emotion, that keeps everything from falling apart. His voice echoes in a minimalist atmosphere on opening track "Foundation," and layers of his vocals fuel the fire of blossoming standout track "Gold." (He is so often plugged as a muted Sam Smith - a comparison that is both baffling to me and insulting to Alexander.) Or maybe it's the band's love-centric lyrics that are equal parts emotional, empathetic, and empirical. From the life-or-death devotion of "Worship" to the lust that bleeds from "Take Shelter," each song stems from the desire for, or lack of attention from, a lover - a lover that *gasp* is revealed to be a male in "Real" and "Memo." We've needed more openly gay male pop stars bar Adam Lambert and Sam Smith, and Alexander fills the position nicely.

But more than likely, Communion is successful thanks to a combination of sheer vocals, love-struck lyrics, and unfaltering production. Years & Years' first outing may not be ground-breaking by any stretch of the definition, but when compared to the lackluster recent releases from fellow electronic artist Owl City and Zedd, it seems immaculate. If anything, though, Years & Years is the sonic lovechild of the detailed electronic dance of Disclosure and the spotless synthpop formulation of Lights - a combination that shouldn't garner many complaints. All comparisons aside, the album is still a glistening example of synthpop music done right.

Communion is out now under Interscope Records.

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