Review: Years and Years
Infectious bass riffs meet silky smooth vocals.
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The musical seers at the BBC have in their wisdom chosen Years and Years as their Sound of 2015. Judging by the fact that previous winners include Adele, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith, you would think there was something in this. But do Years and Years have what it takes to dominate your radios?
Essentially: yes. They have instant appeal, blending the best bits of dance and pop into a pleasing cocktail. Frontman Olly Alexander (who some may recognise from ‘Skins’) offers silky smooth vocals that sail over sparse soundscapes of infectious bass riffs. The spacious feel of their sound allows subtle nuances to develop within the tracks, and gives them a crisp and cool vibe akin to a slightly less miserable version of The Xx.
The band have been going since 2012, and have noticeably developed. Initially their material was haunting and almost painfully earnest in their 2013 Traps EP. The title track opens with what sounds like a slowed down version of the introduction to I Predict a Riot mixed with a haunted house. What’s more, the lyrics are equally humourless: Alexander declares in ‘You and I’ that “I see monsters, I see dreams”. Listeners smile and nod nervously.
Whilst there was undoubtedly something beautiful about the lush quality of these earlier tracks, they occasionally seemed to wallow in their own prettiness. Both ‘Traps’ and ‘You and I’ are a fairly standard three minutes, but both of them seemed to drag as there’s nothing propelling them forwards. But the band quickly developed and started to churn out some of their best material so far. ‘Real’ and ‘Take Shelter’ are a pair of nightclub orientated singles from 2014 which are frankly fantastic.
Gone is the somewhat self-indulgent misery, to be replaced by irresistible synth bass riffs that drive the songs, and tongues are now firmly in cheeks. They’re mischievous yet glacial; buoyant and airy, but with a darker edge. The lyrics are more relatable, but take on a more disturbing tone. ‘Real’ is shot through with self-doubt, whilst “it’s all right if you want to get used” is one of the more interesting sing-a-long choruses on ‘Take Shelter’. The videos are also definitely worth a watch for the sheer pleasure of seeing Ben Wishaw busting some alarming moves and Emily Browning as a witch doctor with a thing for paint.
After this latest development, success was assured, and their newest singles ‘Desire’ and ‘King’ are unlikely to detract from their road to stardom. But somehow it seems like all their interesting edges have been shorn off. The great thing about the earlier material was that the texture was not overly thick, which suited the mood of the songs and Alexander’s vocals. Whilst the synths on ‘Desire’ are still fantastic, and both songs do sound incredibly sleek, Alexander’s vocals seemed to have lost some of it’s depth of feeling. Plus the lyrics seem to have gone sharply downhill. When Alexander asks “is it disireeeeee or is it love that I’m feeling for you?” it hardly sounds original. Neither are bad songs; they’re just a disappointment after the dizzying heights of the earlier singles.
Years and Years are likely to develop along the lines of sophisticated yet marketable electronica tinged pop that CHVRCHES trod a couple of years ago. Big things are clearly in store for them. We just have to hope that they don’t lose sight of what made them so great in the first place in their aim to please a wider and more mainstream audience.