Years & Years – Palo Santo

A one-take greatest hits in waiting.
Label: Polydor Records
Released: 6th July 2018
Rating: ★★★★★+★

Pop Emergency (Or ‘how can you get six stars out of five?’)Everyone else is boring, Dear Reader. They claim that if your scoring scale is out of five, then five is the most you can award. Some even say you can’t really give that, because nothing is perfect. They’re usually the type of eejits who think half stars are things too. Us Dorksters know better. We know there’s no point in five stars if you don’t give it out. Scores are about excitement – not scientific assessment. We include them because this is supposed to be fun. But what do you do when there’s a record that’s better than a five? The once in a blue moon Pop Emergency that stands out above the crowd? Reserved for the most exciting, banger-iffic records – we’ve got the answer. Six out of five. Yes, we’re doing it. Shut up. Don’t be boring.

It’s not as if Years & Years were previously slouches. Their debut album marked them out as one of the breakthrough acts of 2015. It had actual radio hits, and introduced the masses to a genuine pop star in the form of frontman Olly Alexander. And yet, when compared to follow up ‘Palo Santo’, they may as well have been playing obscure Bavarian parlour jazz. Here, Dear Readers, be bangers.

In truth, it’s hard to remember an album that’s so packed, front to back, with potential singles. Not just standalone, cynical strikes, either. Each track is joined by a thematic thread, and yet every single one sounds bigger than the last. First taster and opener ‘Sanctify’ has teeth, jerking like the undead as it marches forth, eyes glinting with genuine soul, but that’s quickly blown out of the water by ‘Hallelujah’ – a track which takes one glance at the metaphorical roof then blows it straight into the upper atmosphere. Think that’s the high point? Then you’ve not accounted for ‘All For You’, all snapbacks and euphoria, or ‘Karma’, with it’s dripping, syrupy sugar mixed with bitter lemon zing. By the time the accelerator is lifted for ‘Hypnotised’, we’re as bewitched as we are exhausted. In a good way.

So much, so ‘we don’t need a track by track run through, mate’, but it’s that dizzying rush that best encapsulates the majesty of ‘Palo Santo’. There’s no accusing Years & Years of being too cool for school, and yet they’ve remained true to themselves in their crowning glory. There’s no skipping to the beats of another’s trend, or painfully pulling apart what’s reacting from an avalanche of numbers and streaming statistics. This is the same trio, with the same ideals, but supercharged.

In a time when we’re still being told the album as a format is dead, ‘Palo Santo’ presents the perfect solution. A stunning, complete work, it’s also packed with playlist ready moments – each of triple A-list status. From the tropical bounce of ‘If You’re Over Me’ to the intriguing alt-pop burn of ‘Lucky Escape’, it’s a one-take greatest hits in waiting. By the old ways of doing things, it would be enough to keep them in full on ubiquitous promo mode for a good two years. As it is, it’s an almost unheard of motherlode that sets a new high bar. These kings are under nobody’s control now.

Stephen Ackroyd

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