Before or synth

Posted on 24 Jul 2015 at 7:25am

Brit trio Years and Years’ ‘Communion’ shows unrealized potential


The opening track of Communion begins faintly, as if you forgot to turn up the volume on your MP3 player: A low, rhythmic pulsing. Then the first words arrive with crystal clarity, almost disconnected from the music undergirding it. As it grows, it expands its complexities of time signature and tone. The song, “Foundation” is a dreamy mixture of R&B and electronica with an ethereal otherworldliness, all wrapped up in boy-band sincerity, complete with vocal runs and romantic sincerity. Then it ends, almost too soon — a prologue of sorts, a taste (you hope) of what is to come.

COMMUNION-coverAlas, the road of synthpop is paved with broken promises. Years and Years — the British trio of out frontman/keyboardist Olly Alexander, synth player Emre Turkmen and bassist Mikey Goldsworthy — clearly have the talent to create a catchy sound and dancefloor potential. But the album feels like 13 opportunities to explore an electropop catalogue that keeps coming back to the same clichés. Eventually, each song seems to fade into each other.

Following “Foundation,” the single “Shine” is the next track to perk your ears up. Alexander’s breathy lead vocals recall ’80s-era a capella groups like Boyz II Men filtered through Michael Buble with a dose of Enigma added, but to minimal effect: “Take Shelter” leaves no impression, and “Worship” gets cheesy quicker than curd in hot barn.

The first track to employ a sound that stands apart is “Eyes Shut,” which begins with a solo piano and vocal that suggests Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (who themselves owe a debt to Bruce Hornsby). Lyrically, it’s the same stale sentiments we’ve come to expect from corporatized pop, but at least the rhythm makes it distinguishable from the pack.

Debut albums, as Communion is, can be hit or miss: A trial run for greater things, or the best shot at stardom that lays it all out there. It feels as if Years and Years has potential unrealized on this album. They just need to mix it up more. Let’s hope it doesn’t take years and years for them to achieve it.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Communion (Polydor)
Two-and-a-half stars.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 24, 2015.

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