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Years & Years - Palo Santo

Years & Years – Palo Santo

A second record can always go one of two ways for a popular chart band. They can either churn out another 40 minutes of fine pop songs, with one or two hits to cater towards their radio-friendly audience, or they can experiment with their sound and completely change their audience’s perception of them. Thankfully, Years & Years have done the latter with their sophomore effort Palo Santo. Their first record, Communion, wasn’t a particularly bad album per se, but it was pretty generic. Palo Santo, however, is an electronic pop confection in the vein of 80s and 90s pops-meets-r’n’b (with alternative indie offerings thrown in for good measure) exploring the spectrum of sexuality.

No matter how thematically deep it is, though, on a pop record of this magnitude the songs have got to be killer and that’s exactly what they are. From the lead single ‘Sanctify’ onwards Palo Santo - taking its name from a mystical incense used to banish negative energy - is a euphoric, empowering and multi-faceted album that works on both levels it’s navigating; firstly, it’s a fantastic pop record harking back to the brilliant pettiness of 90s pop, and secondly, it’s a gateway to frontman Olly Alexander’s mind.

There’s no doubt that Alexander has become a supremely confident frontman as well as a writer. At times on Palo Santo his lyrical wordplay is like poetry in motion. Take ‘Sanctify’ for example, a song that tackles an affair with a man who identifies as straight. “You don’t have to be straight with me,” Alexander cheekily points out, before concluding: “I see what’s underneath your mask”. Not only is it clever linguistic play but it’s highlighting a genuine problem within toxic masculinity and sexuality, and that’s something that is wholly lacking from modern pop music. ‘Sanctify’ is essentially a modern day retelling of Britney Spears’ ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ but it’s also a thoughtful exploration of masculinity and how that affects the LGBT community in the 21st century.

Years & Years’ modus operandi here is honesty, and Palo Santo exposes everything into the public sphere. Whether that’s relationships, sexuality, or both, Alexander has got to be admired for his brutally honest nature. ‘If You’re Over Me’ is for anyone going through an inconsistent relationship: “One minute you say we’re a team/ Then you’re telling me you can’t breathe,” while the title track, one of the finest tracks on the record, is drenched with fiendishly clever lines such as: “Does the mark on my skin, make you hot with shame?” There’s a provocative nature to Alexander’s wordplay, much like all of his pop heroes from the late 90s and early 2000s (Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Britney Spears).

Most of Palo Santo works because of Alexander’s direction. He’s nothing short of iconic, and for a band with a lot of young fans that’s incredibly inspiring. He’s a leader that isn’t afraid to put all of that vibrant, dynamic character on full display and, as such, he’s on his way to becoming one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Both emotional and seductive, Palo Santo turns personal history into bittersweet pop magic, making the record one of the biggest surprises of 2018 thus far, and certainly one of the finest pop records of the year.

Liam McMillen

Website: yearsandyears.com
Facebook: facebook.com/YearsAndYears
Twitter: twitter.com/yearsandyears

 

 


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