Imagine falling into an ocean of synths. Out of nowhere, a crooning voice comes through the dilapidated fog. In kicks a slinking alt-pop beat, complete with raw, unfiltered lyrics.
That’s the essence of Years & Years’ first studio effort: Communion. Released in July of 2015, Communion sees the trio of Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy, and Emre Türkmen experimenting in synth pop. The group originated in London, where it has a massive following, but it has found global success and is slowly beginning to cross over onto playlists and stages in the US.
Five years prior to the release of their first album, Mikey happened to hear Olly singing in the shower. After conversation and collaboration, Years & Years was born. The group had five members in the early months, but three stayed together until their signing with Interscope/Polydor. Y&Y is comprised of an architect-turned-synth-mastermind (Türkmen), Australian bassist (Goldsworthy), and curly-haired vocalist (Alexander).
Although the inventive hooks and backbone beats are instantly recognizable Y&Y, it’s Olly’s magnetic voice that inevitably leaves the deepest impression. Fans of Sam Smith and The Weeknd may see glints of similarity, but Alexander paves his own road when it comes to dialect and lyricism. Songs such as the opener “Foundation,” which is reminiscent of a forlorn battle cry, and standout “Without,” which soars to emotional highs, showcase the range of Alexander’s remarkable talent. He has a dynamic voice, with the pipes to prove it.
If you’ve ever heard of Years & Years, you’ve likely heard their smash hit “King.” The track asserted its royal dominance in the UK in March of Communion’s release year. The track was Y&Y’s first #1, crowning the UK Singles Chart with a whopping combined sales-streaming figure of 101,000 copies in its debut week. It was also a critical success—Time Magazine named “King” the 10th-best song of 2015. Although the trio has yet to crossover in the States, one listen of “King” should make you scratch your head. The song opens with an ascending voice loop before Olly’s voice jumps in amid glittering beats. From the chorus’ “I was a king” to the final shouting pleas of “let go of everything,” the song is pure gold.
Another highlight is the track “1977.” The standout opens with a somber “you dye your hands the color blue/you wash your mouth; you pray for truth.” This is pretty good stuff—Olly is singing of an ended relationship, but hints at it rather than directly saying it. The color blue universally represents sadness, and the washing alludes to someone trying to heal themselves. It’s easy to feel the emotion through Olly’s voice coupled with hovering synths, and the lyrics lead to a soaring crescendo that ends seamlessly.
The most impressive feat that Years & Years managed to accomplish is the strength of their debut—there is no clear weak track. The trio exhibits versatility and depth throughout the 48 minutes. Sometimes the compositions are flamboyant and joyous, other times somber and reflective. No two tracks are the same, yet the album is still a singular cohesive effort. This is largely due to its overlying themes of love, fame, and discrimination coupled with complimentary instrumentals and repeating symbolical references.
Years & Years is appealing not only for their talent, but for their unabashed uniqueness. In a world of predetermined cookie-cutter performers, the trio’s honesty is refreshing. They don’t take anything too seriously. They aim to be as open and authentic as possible. As a result, their music is memorable and masterful all at once. Keep an eye out for Years & Years.