fri 13/12/2019

CD: Years & Years - Palo Santo | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Years & Years - Palo Santo

CD: Years & Years - Palo Santo

Second album from 2015's breakthrough pop stars shows no sign of quality slippage

Welcomed to the jungle by Olly Alexander

It’s three years since Years & Years’ debut album Communion, with its monster singles “King” and “Shine”, put them on the map as major pop stars. Their music was smartly (albeit faintly) flavoured with sounds ranging from LA alt-hip hop to Hot Chip, and in cute live wire Olly Alexander they had a characterful and proudly gay frontman. Their new album has, then, been much anticipated. Of the two songs already released from it, happily it has most in common with the stripped, tribalistic “Sanctify” than the grinning, trop-house cheese of “If You’re Over Me”.

The unfortunate truth, of course is that the latter song is the bigger hit, but Palo Santo veers mostly towards quality pop somewhere between Christine and the Queens and Clean Bandit, rather than Calvin Harris-style pap. Assisted by the usual armoury of proven producer-songwriters-for-hire such as Greg Kurstin, Mark Ralph and Steve Mac, the best of the album has an airy, percussive feel. “Karma” wisely underplays its R&B edge and focuses on a stripped, shuffle-pop groove while “Preacher” is the sort of song Michael Jackson might have mustered had he been young in 2018.

Alexander’s lyrics have a snap to them, relationship issues from self-doubt to vanity being grist to his mill. From the pumped Ibiza party of “Hallelujah” to the twinkling, echoey ballad “Hypnotized” he maintains a central presence, his jejune Justin Timberlake-ish voice a taste that’s required to enjoy Years & Years’ oeuvre. There is, though, also a solid electro-pop underpinning, especially notable on the bouncy “Rendez Vous”, the Eighties-sounding “Up in Flames” (one of the album’s three “Deluxe Edition bonus tracks”), and especially that sneaky, more-ish and clever opening-shot single “Sanctify”.

In short, Palo Santo is more than a match for its predecessor and sees Years & Years develop their sound, but never too much to put off teen fans of their fluffiest, frothiest moments.

Below: Watch the video for "Sanctify" by Years & Years

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters