The life span of a pop band can be as brief as that of a mayfly: one day here, the next gone. So it’s a relief that out artist Olly Alexander along with his bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen are working overtime on their sharp and feisty new Years & Years album (their sophomore release) Palo Santo, to make sure their indie pop sustains for more than a short season.
Of the new Years & Years album Alexander has said it “came from loads of different ideas of what Years & Years is about and what I am about. I felt like creating that space and playing around in there would be a good thing to do. It has all my favorite things combined: sci-fi, spiritualism, performance and identity.”
I can’t attest to the sci-fi in the music (though it’s embedded in the videos and short film), but spiritualism, performance and identity are front and center across the album’s 14 tracks (the title references a mixture of wood and sawdust, distilled into oil, used in spiritual cleansing rituals).
Opener “Sanctify” could be your standard issue electro romance drama, until you realize that Alexander is addressing his straight, married companion. (Hey, it worked for Sam Smith.) The jaunty, cheeky “If You’re Over Me” reads an ex who couldn’t stop “Jekyll and Hyde-ing” while their relationship was happening. And the dance floor ready “Hallelujah” deals with diminishment and renewal on its way to the flashing club lights (and the dimmer illuminations of the bedroom afterwards).
Years & Years doesn’t reinvent their basic template on Palo Santo, though the textures of the songs feel deeper and more playful this time out. This is nowhere more evident than the title track, with its mysterious confession “You’re the darkness in me, palo santo,” embraced by skittering rhythms and a soulful Alexander vocal that explores the highs and lows of eroticism.
Though Alexander is still very young, he’s grown up a lot in the three years since the release and commercial success of Communion. “Was I just something for the moment?” he asks, plaintively, before “Hallelujah” jets off to the disco for more possibilities and experiences (of sex, and maybe even of love). And throughout the new Years & Years album he — along with Goldsworthy and Türkmen — makes those encounters signify.
Palo Santo is notice that Years & Years will be with us for quite some time.