Communion, defined as the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, is an apt title for Years & Years’ debut album full of reverent songs lamenting the many facets of lost love. Brimming with spine tingling vocals, Communion is well worth the wait.
In what is a strong contender of album of the year, Communion takes the listener through heartache after heartache, set to a backdrop of twinkling piano and pulsing house beats. This description may confuse the listener, as classical and house don’t tend to mix, but Clean Bandit squashed those doubts last year with their debut New Eyes.
‘Foundation’ opens the album in stunning fashion, as Olly Alexander’s raw vocal plays over minimalistic production that slowly builds throughout. It combines deep twinkling beats, synths, and a stunning vocal to highlight what this album is all about. It rightly gives justice to the standout element of Communion: Olly’s voice. It never shines brighter than on ‘Foundation’.
It’s a sound which recurs on ‘Eyes Shut’, which includes a simplistic finger-clicking beat layered over piano notes and ethereal chorused ‘oohs’. Here Olly is raw and tender, as he sings, ‘Nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut / I can see through them, I can see through them / I can draw pictures I’m evading.’ Here he is hiding from a flailing relationship by simply closing his eyes.
Olly’s relationships are the primary focus of this album, and as such he uses male pronouns on several tracks to cement this notion. The simplistic sound recurs onto ‘Memo’, where Olly states ‘I-I I want more, I want more’, adding ‘Who wouldn’t want it when he looks like that?’
His vocal is reminiscent of Sam Smith’s crooning, and despite the male pronoun seemingly making this song personal to Olly alone, ‘Memo’ is personal to the majority of listeners too, as most will relate to wanting somebody who doesn’t want them back.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. ‘Real’ is a house-inflected ditty about unreciprocated love. ‘Oh I think that / If I had been enough for you / Would I be better / Would I be good?’ Olly sings over a finger-clicking beat infused with slight elements of jazz that begs the listener to groove. It’s one of the most upbeat songs on the album.
Once more he directly addresses his homosexuality, by referring to ‘boy’ in the song, and once more it takes nothing away from the listener. If anything it amplifies the experience, as it makes Olly one of few openly gay singers to directly address their sexuality in their songs.
‘Shine’, meanwhile, is brimming with positivity. It’s euphoric and soaring, and it gets beneath the skin. ‘You know that you make it shine / It’s you that I’ve been waiting to find,’ Olly sings about meeting somebody for the first time. It’s a complete travesty that ‘Shine’ didn’t make the top spot (as addictive as ‘House Every Weekend’ is).
‘Gold’, a thumping electronic number about not being owned ‘like gold’, incorporated subtle notes of house and a soaring vocal, cementing it as a contender for a future single. And ‘I Want To Love’, a bonus track on the deluxe version of Communion, is so in your face that you can almost picture Olly singing it directly to you. This should be a future single.
Reggae bizarrely rears its head (slightly) on ‘Take Shelter’, a song about the breakdown of a relationship and being used by somebody. The beat is reminiscent of the RnB grooves of AlunaGeorge’s debut – something to get down and dirty to. Olly’s dancing to this track is testament to this, as he grooves and indeed gets down.
So what is the standout track of Communion? Well, it’s quite hard to decide, because there are too many to choose from.
‘King’, naturally, is stunning. A song about being high (‘They say it’s easy to leave you behind / I don’t want to try’) has never sounded so good! ‘Desire’, meanwhile, is slow building and anthemic, discussing the notion of conflicting feelings over rekindling a broken relationship. ‘Is it desire / Or is it love that I’m feeling for you?’ Olly asks amid tumbling electric beats.
But is perhaps ‘Ties’ that stands out most for me. Dark and dirty, ‘Ties’ incorporates a thumping beat and soaring vocal. The chorus is simplistic and repetitive, but it manages to get beneath the skin upon the first listen, and evokes thoughts of a torturous relationship. The breakdown towards the end in which Olly sings ‘Just another bite that takes you higher than before / Did it make you feel good? Does he run away? / Does he fill the space? It feels like you’re okay’ not only tingles the spine, but gives you tingles all over! It’s that good!
Of course there are a few forgetful songs, but for the most part Communion is entirely stunning. Olly’s gorgeous tones are layered upon impeccable production to produce a truly unforgettable debut. By the end of this album you’ll feel like you know Olly inside out – he has most definitely exchanged his intimate thoughts and feelings to the listener.
Check back at Vada in a few weeks for an exclusive interview with Years & Years about the creation of ‘Communion’.