Saturday, 7 July 2018

Years & Years Palo Santo Review: "Pop-tastic!"

It really is a wonderful feeling when albums live up to the hype. With pre-album sings serving as a taster for what is to come, there is always that fear that the singles are going to be far better than the actual album is. They're supposed to act as the appetizer to the main course but unfortunately on some occasions, they end up tasting far better and we're left with nothing but disappointment ringing in our ears.

Years & Years do not suffer from this issue. Their debut album "Communion" was released in 2015. It was a good enough album, but some songs got repetitive quite quickly, and I couldn't really say the album has much repeat value. So bearing this in mind? When "Palo Santo" was announced? Each single that came out wowed me? I was filled with excitement over the album's release? Hoping against hope it wouldn't be a let down, and after my 6th listen still constantly pressing the replay button?

Well, it's almost as good as England reaching their first semi final for the first time in my life span (Seriously if there's something better than England taking us all by surprise it's the 'its coming home' memes.

But back to "Palo Santo". From start to finish this is a po-tastic album of absolute perfection. At 14 tracks it's not too long, but not too short. 'Here' is the shortest track on the album coming in at 1:40. Every other track is at least 3 minutes long, and absolutely fabulous in their own right. It really is lovingly refreshing to be able to listen to an album and not feel as though any track is just a few seconds too long.

Years & Years have evolved both lyrically and musically and it's wonderful to listen to, and even see in their music videos. He's never been one to hide his sexuality and the bands music videos are a fine example of doing a music video right. They always take us on a storytelling journey, which I wish more artists would do. Sure music videos are supposed to act as a selling mechanism to persuade the watcher to buy the song, but they're also an form of artistic expression and even the most basic of music videos can tell a story if you want them to.

'Sanctify' was obviously the lead single off the album and released back in March. Have to be honest, at the time I didn't really feel the song but now the chorus has completely grown on me. I still would've preferred if 'All For You' had been the lead single, but I understand the logic in releasing 'Sanctify' first. It's the album's title track and prepares us quite well for what is to come.

What I think this album does so well compared to their debut is balance more evenly the ballads and more up tempo numbers. Starting the album off with a bit of a moody song and then jumping into the up tempo with 'Hallelujah'. Following on from that is of course 'All For You' which is my favorite song off the album, and maybe even my favorite song from Years & Years period. It's just such a wonderful song musically with wonderfully delicious beats, all playing over a song that is quite an emotional heart-breaker. Many artists would take a song like this and make a ballad out of it, the lyrics are basically set up for that after all, but it would've been an extremely cliched move and if there's one thing that can be said about Years & Years? They are no cliche. Given I also correctly predicted that Chvrches fabulous 'Miracle' would be excellent for a TV show and low & behold! It pops up in The Bold Type, let me predict 'All For You' will appear on a TV show at some point, and dare I say I'd also love an acoustic version of the song just so my heart can be ripped out?

'Karma' is more of a mid-tempo song, slowing the pace down just that little bit to enable catching breath after so much dancing, but still keeps us hooked. It's once again quite deep lyrically.

Of course though I have to talk about 'Hypnotized'. This song was originally featured 8 months ago in a H&M advert. For the last 8 months fans have been on tether-hooks, hoping against hope that a full length HQ version of the song would be officially released, because there's really only so many times you can replay an advert on Youtube. The full version of it is even more beautiful than the ad version (a sentence I never thought I'd write). It's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. If there's anything Years & Years do better than up tempo dance songs, it's ballads.

To help us wipe up out tears 'Rendezvous' turns the tempo back up. Once again I have to praise the song listing on this album. It really does strike the balance of ballads and dance songs so well. It would be really easy to have half your album literally be ballads and the other half pop songs, or string a number of ballads together and then break it up with an up tempo number to wake us from our slumber. Here the balance is just right with a keen ear being used to decide when and when not to turn things up and slow down & it's partly what gives the album so much replay value. 'Rendezvous' starts off softly enough and doesn't completely explode because it does need to. The tempo is up enough to provide solid beats, whilst never losing track of the story the song is telling lyrically and musically.

'If You're Over Me' continues to keep things at a modest pace. It's not quite a dance number, not quite a ballad, sitting firmly in the middle and the video is just as wonderful. 'Preacher' is a good enough start to the second part of the album. It continues in the trend of not quite being dance, not quite being a ballad, but avoids sounding repetitive. Its got a thunderous chorus which would sound absolutely marvelous in a stadium, and I expect it to be featuring in adverts at some point in the future. 'Lucky Escape' is another emotional ballad, covering the subject of a break-up that has been extremely messy and looking back at it full of anger for treatment that has been suffered, and as the title suggests, knowing the break-up was the right thing and being thankful for it.

'Palo Santo' is of course the title track and I have spoken about this song in a previous New Music Friday, so I won't repeat myself too much. It's an absolute cracker of a song, without a doubt my favorite from the album, been glued to my playlist since its release last week and is an absolutely beautiful song to have on your writers playlist.

'Here' is of course the shortest song on the album. It feels almost like an interlude, something included to make up the time and set the mood for what is to come. I'll appreciate the fact it is 1 minute and 40 seconds long, because usually with tracks like this we're lucky if they even come to a minute. However it's another of those songs that feels as though it's teasing us. A ballad for sure but as soon as it starts to feel like it could go somewhere that would stomp on the remains of our heart, it cuts to the next track. That is of course 'Howl' which again has a wicked chorus (no pun intended). It's once again a song quite soft in nature as the focus turns to faith. It's also one of 3 bonus tracks on the album with 'Don't Panic' and 'Up In Flames' the album finisher.

At this point in the album it is all about setting the tempo for the grand finale, and to let us know we are reaching the end of 'Palo Santo'. Many artists choose the album finale as the best time to give us endless ballads and I do really hate it. Sure the songs are wonderful, but I'd rather keep a natural flow of an album than deliberately grinding everything to a halt. All three of the songs are great in their own right and keep up the mixture of pop and low tempo beats that this album does so well. They also continue to cover some difficult subjects lyrically. 'Howl' saw Olly Alexander having a crisis of faith and looking for guidance, 'Don't Panic' sees him trying to calm himself down as everything weighs down on him and he's trying desperately not to let that pain and anxiety overwhelm him. 'Up In Flames' feels like the finale part of the trilogy, as Olly has his demons in his sights, has moved past them and is trying to look to the future however difficult that may be. 'Up In Flames' also has some delicious 80's techno funk futuristic beats. It is a much welcomed up back in tempo and feels like Years & Years are playing with us in a different way to other artists.

They when the album is reaching its finale lower the pace and go out with a whimper. Years & Years bring it right back up, leaving us wanting more. The album is a perfect balance of pure dance numbers, pop numbers and ballads. It shows a growth musically and lyrically, and almost makes it hard to believe their debut album only came out 3 years ago.

We can only hope we don't have to wait so long for the next one.