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Album review: Years & Years - Palo Santo

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It has been a long three years of waiting for new material from trio Years & Years, sky-rocketing to popularity and chart heights by winning BBC’s Sound of 2015.

Flash forward to present day and the band is quite noticeably different, and with new album Palo Santo, they express a new facet of themselves. They are much more mature, with a welcome progression in sound that is smouldering, sexy, sinful and above all, the slice of perfect pop that 2018 was missing up until now.

Although packed full of religious imagery across the board, Palo Santo (Spanish for ‘holy wood’) refashions the usual narrative of belief, sin and transgression to one that is inherently more ‘human’ and relatable — the album is incredibly self-reflective, honest and flaunts its creators’ flaws whilst simultaneously and boldy celebrating sexuality, individuality and expressing your true self.

Lead single ‘Sanctify’ kicks things off, immediately signalling a darker path for the synth-pop group with an almost unnerving tone and some of frontman Olly Alexander’s best vocals to date. ‘Hallelujah’ quickly follows, a gorgeous combination of irresistibly haunting electro and disco beats that turns religious worship into something far more intimate. It is impossible not to dance to it within seconds.

One of the strongest elements of the album is the frank openness of the lyrical content. The National Student recently spoke to band member Mikey Goldsworth, who admitted the album sounds “like we’ve grown up a bit”. And whilst several songs in the pop chart canon have come out and slayed ex-lovers in dramatic fashion, Years & Years take the high ground and prove this to be true. ‘All For You’ is a surprisingly happy-go-lucky, ‘boy bye’ bop, whilst the ultimate burn appears on ‘Lucky Escape’: “you’re so deluded / you’re such a fake / and now you’ve got somebody else to manipulate”. Sharp and daring, and a personal highlight of the entire track-listing for that line alone. Even ‘Karma’, on first listen perhaps a more subdued effort, is packed to the brim with attitude, swagger and a much more ‘fuck you’ attitude than we are used to from Years & Years.

Latest single ‘If You’re Over Me’ is perhaps the best display of when the band combines both phases we have witnessed of theirs thus far; synth-tastic, sickly sweet and a sure-fire banger that for the fair-weather Spotify fans and aficionados alike will class as their ultimate summer song. And I can say with great authority that it sounds even better while blasting it in the car and singing along on a hot day…

Slower tracks like ‘Hypnotised’ and ‘Here’ bring the album some much-needed shade, supplying the listener with introspective and dark moments that really help to shape the idea that this album has been more thoughtfully planned and honed. It is tracks like these that help to truly sell the perhaps quite loose theme of Palo Santo, of an android-filled dystopian universe in which human nature is explored.

Palo Santo is what 2018’s pop charts have thus far been lacking. Years & Years have crafted a perfect pop album that makes you think and reflect on many aspects of human life — and it does it so well that you won’t have even realised you have learned all the lyrics upon your first listen. Years & Years, it’s good to well and truly have you back.

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