BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years and Years have recently released their debut, the somewhat pretentiously-named Communion. The electronica trio look to follow in the footsteps of past winners Sam Smith, Adele and Ellie Goulding, but can they stand out in a commercial genre that faces more oversaturation now than perhaps ever before?
The album starts with a fairly refreshing tone – Foundation, rather than opening with a high energy dance number destined for a club remix, starts slow, building tension until frontman and occasional actor Olly Alexander truly shows off his vocal range with a big crescendo towards the end of the song. It’s definitely different to what one would expect from this band based off of radio singles, but it works well.
Speaking of radio singles, this album has had a staggering 5, with later singles King and Shine placing at 1 and 2 in the charts respectively. King is a really strong, airtight electro-pop song with little to fault. There really isn’t much to dislike about the song, a 90s-style beat provides the backbone whilst the chorus provides a sing-along melody perfect for radio airplay. Shine works in a similar vein, albeit in a slightly more R&B-infused style as opposed to the dance/electronica sound of the latter. First single Real is a bass-driven House-influenced song, rife with reverb effects and crisply-written vocals, whilst Take Shelter is a solid track based around a simple drum track and an unintelligible vocal hook.
The band clearly take a lot of influence from their peers. Whilst the variety on the album makes for an interesting listening experience – and is definitely admirable from an artistic standpoint – it is also the largest flaw of the album. Ironically, the album sounds like the namesake of the award that catapulted it to commercial success – the sound of 2015. There are clear snippets of The Weeknd, Sam Smith, Little Dragon, The 1975, pretty much any EDM artist from the last year; the band have relied so heavily on combining different generic styles into the album they have failed in carving their own identity. The songs all have individual merit (for the most part) but as an album it comes across more as a compilation than a single artist release.
Despite this, the album excels in other areas. The production is particularly smooth, with the various different genres being catered too brilliantly by the band. Alexander’s voice is always modified to suit the song he is singing perfectly. Whilst not particularly innovative, the execution is spot on, even on the lesser songs such as Desire, where the lacklustre vocal effort doesn’t detract quite as much as it should due to the wealth of other sounds going on during the chorus. The ballads are another strong aspect of the album. Closer Memo in particular is well-written in every sense. Even lyrically, the song transcends the lyrical mediocrity of the rest of the album to deliver a stripped-back soliloquy about the singer loving a closeted man. Eyes Shut is also a good ballad, although borrows too heavily from Lorde’s style at times.
The album is by no means a bad album. It aims for the stereotypical Radio 1 audience whilst having individual songs for more specific demographics. This isn’t a bad strategy for the band; it clearly works as seen by their relatively quick commercial success (although the BBC’s love for the band was also a clear factor for this) and having such a wide range of influences in theory leads to better and more varied song-writing. Unfortunately here, it has worked too well, with the band failing to form an actual identity, relying more on the sound of the time. A solid foundation has been laid however, the band just need to construct a ‘Years and Years sound’ instead of the derivative they have produced.