16 August 2015

Years & Years - Communion

Now this is something I have been waiting to review for a while, but not because I have a strong desire to review it.  I was asked at the beginning of the year to look at the debut album by Years & Years when it eventually dropped.  I will state from the outset, I know little to nothing about these guys; I am not exactly their target audience I think, ageing grunge man with a Frank Zappa obsession is not many people's key demographic.  But they have been making waves over the year, topped the annual BBC Sound award, won a Brit award as the critics’ choice and have signed to Polydor records with this releasing being the first fruits of that union.  In the UK it topped the charts, in the USA it has peaked at 47 (not bad for a synth based UK act).  So, I think they are doing fine without my input; but you do not always get what you want in this life and now it is time to find out if this three piece are worth the hype or the latest in a long line of new garments for an elderly emperor.

"Foundation" starts with a pulsing muffed synth effect as vocalist Olly Alexander pours his heart out at the discovery of a betrayal.  It has a touch of Depeche Mode to the background music on this one, there is a dark brooding to the song that would be a sound that could be explored; but just as it peaks and everything is break, the songs end and it feels as if they have missed a trick.  This is followed by "Real" which was the first single released from the album in February 2014 (this album has been that long in the making).  The song sounds like M83 have dropped a few uppers and went clubbing, lyrically it is another sound about being lost at the end of a relationship and once more the band sound very tight and vocals very polished (pro-tools me thinks to be honest).  But whilst the chorus is very catchy, I am not seeing this as anything else but a piece of club music that does reach its peak musically to match the vocal delivery - it is nice, but not something that is filling my world.  The third track is called "Shine" and the big keys are out in force for this number.  This songs reminds me a lot of M83, but I also hear a lot of Pet Shop Boys as well.  This song about the start of a relationship is easy on the ears, not hard to process; but I can imagine it as the background music for an advert for the next Mazda car, it is an image I cannot get out of my head and it is something that I cannot head.  In a similar vein to "Real" the song does not reach a peak for me, but it is still decent.  Next is "Take Shelter" which goes down a different route, it is a song that once again takes a look at the start of a relationship (in this piece it is the start of the relationship under difficult circumstance) which is not handled with a care that you do not usually hear in this sort of music; it is refreshing for that point alone, but musically it is well crafted electronic house music that reaches an early plateau and does not reach any higher.  Also it does not move too far away from the sound of "Real" and "Shine", this is a thirteen track album, there is quite a way to go (if it was the deluxe album, that is stretched to seventeen songs) so is a bit of early variety too much to ask?

"Worship" seems to answer this question with a no; but it does take the formula of love song (almost blind devotion if we are honest) and give it a bit of high voltage house music. The feeling of Pet Shop Boys comes across even stronger on this number, it is full of religious imagery and forbidden love with a sense of desperation as well - so far, this album is well produced but as exciting as an episode of Top Gear that has been repeated a hundred thousand times on Dave.  It might be well put together, but it is nothing new.  Then "Eyes Shut" and its gentle piano introduction cuts in, with a tale of standing tall against the world whilst ignoring the reality of the situation It starts off so different to the rest of the album and it is very gentle and heartfelt, by the end of the song the synths are in full flow and whilst it is only a small section of the song; it feels like they did not know when to stop with it.  It is good, but it could have been much more.  "Ties" is an 80's action movie song wrote in a different decade, listen to that opening sequence and tell me you cannot think of anything other either prime Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude van Damme in a moody pose as the picture starts.  A story of a broken relationship with a dark set of synths in the mixes takes what they have done so far through the album and changes it very slightly, not too much mind you but enough to make it stand out from the rest of the album so far.  The eighth song is the multi-country chart topping hit "King", another interest set of lyrics about the end of a relationship and in this instance it is the final moments of a controlling relationship.  Once more the music is a mixture of modern house, 80's pop and their inner Depeche Mode is coming to the forefront here; it is another song that sounds very nice on the ear but does not reach that euphoric moment that is hinted at during the song.

"Desire" is more of the same and is feeling very much by the numbers for what this album is about.  Cut from the same cloth as 85% of this album, there is not much difference to this and "Shine" or "Real" (all of which were singles released from this album I would like to add).  It is not doing anything wrong per se, but it is not doing anything dynamic or different either.  Much the same as "Gold" - the only difference to most of these songs is the lyrics that are supplied for each song (and these can all be filled under love songs - either being dumped or in the raptures of love) that are top quality.  Musically, there is not much difference and the album is still not near its ending when it could have finished a few track earlier.  "Without" is at least a little different to the formula of the album, more restrained and minimal than other songs.  It also does not fall into the trap which "Eyes Shut" did and ram it up too much at the end, that makes it a much more solid number for the come down and whilst it might not excite as much as other song, it has some quality that shines through and brings my interest back to the record.  The penultimate track "Border" is a mixture of "Without" and "Take Shelter", but once more I am drifting out to the song.  It is another well crafted number, but I am struggling at the point to see any difference to the rest of the record.  "Memo" ends the album on a slow number, but by this point I can safely say that as well produced it is I am just glad to be at the end.

I think it is safe to say that this is not an album for me in many respects, I appreciate the lyrical side of the band - it is the saving grace of the record as a whole.  But this is a debut which should grab your attention from beginning to end, it should also have some small degree of variation to the formula every now and then; this does neither for me and I know I am in a minority here to a certain degree, as I stated at the top of the review I am not their target audience.  But as I have said before I do love a well-crafted album, this is well put together but it lacks a clinical touch.  Much of the material has been around for a while from the band and they could have released a teaser EP last year and kept the cream for this album.  But as it turns out, they have released a bloated record that suffers from quantity control and has a familiar pattern to a lot of the song which makes a lot of the record merge into one endless tune of monotony.  Decent for what it is and if you like it then more power to you, but it needs editing, lots of editing.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Years & Years website here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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