With their luminous brand of electro-pop, London-based trio Years & Years layer sweetly smooth vocals over bright and heady beats to create what they call “music you can dance and cry to.” As winners of the BBC Sound of 2015 Poll (an honour previously granted to such critically praised hitmakers as Sam Smith, Adele, and Ellie Goulding), bassist Mikey Goldsworthy, keyboard player Emre Turkmen, and vocalist Olly Alexander have spent the last few years charming audiences worldwide by merging R&B, deep house, and classic-pop with both elegance and abandon. Appearing on 2015 Artists to Watch lists from the likes of The Guardian, Digital Spy, DIY, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post, Years & Years are now poised to take that early promise and breakthrough with the release of their highly anticipated full-length debut album, Communion.
Now signed to Polydor, Communion features recent single ‘King’ — a gorgeously synth-washed track that reveals the raw yet lovely emotional power of the band’s gracefully crafted sound, and recently reached #1 in on the UK singles chart. To achieve that sound, Years & Years self-produced Communion with the help of collaborators like Mark Ralph (the producer/engineer behind Hot Chip and Hot Natured), matching an inventiveness inspired by such artists as Flying Lotus and Radiohead with a daringly confessional lyrical sensibility.
On the album, Years & Years shape their soulful ingenuity into songs that never hold back from looking at the darker and thornier sides of love. On the album-opener ‘Foundation’, a stark yet crystalline soundscape builds the perfect backdrop for Alexander’s hauntingly delivered lyrics (“All the things I want/I really shouldn’t get”). ‘Desire’ unfolds as an epic and giddy dance anthem that slyly flips the script at the chorus (“I want desire/Because your love only gets me abused”). The somber strings and delicate piano work of ‘Eyes Shut’ gently conveys the pain of a slowly breaking heart, while the urgent beats and chilling piano of ‘Ties’ brilliantly echo the frenzy of emotional unraveling (“It’s so beautiful to see you lie/Are you having fun?”). And on ‘Memo’, Communion closes out with a falsetto-laced slow jam featuring crushing lyrics like “I’m gonna take your heart/Love you in the dark/No one has to see.”
Proving Years & Years’ complexity as songwriters and artists, Communion also offers its share of songs with a more joyful and blissed-out bent. ‘Shine’ begins with driving beats and dreamy R&B harmonies and then morphs into a full-throttle dance number, gloriously capturing the butterflies-in-the-belly thrill of falling in love. “The metaphor of ‘shine’ and ‘shining’ comes from the way somebody can make you feel totally brand-new and special and re-made in the light of their love, but how that can feel incredibly unstable and overwhelming and make you want to destroy yourself,” explains Alexander. On ‘Border’, breezy tropical beats and bubbly synth blend together to conjure up a powerful anthem of hope (“I’m going to the border/My body will be stronger/My heart will start to shine/And I will be all right”). And throughout Communion, Years & Years channel an equally magnetic and infectious energy into songs like ‘Take Shelter’, a hypnotic, dancehall-beat-driven track that shot to #1 on the iTunes UK Electronic Singles chart.
For Years & Years, instilling Communion with so much pure feeling was mainly a matter of carefully mining their own experience in heartbreak. “A lot of the lyrics are about a relationship of mine that ended last year,” explains Alexander. “It was a chaotic situation where I wanted to win this person’s love and never succeeded and felt really rejected, and that’s where all these songs came from.”
The last member to join Years & Years, Alexander wrote his first song on his dad’s Casio keyboard at age 10, played in a band that covered TLC and Destiny’s Child songs throughout high school, and eventually made his way into the group after Goldsworthy came to a party at his house and then crashed there for the night. “I heard Olly singing in the shower the next day and thought he had a really good voice, so I guess that was like his audition,” says Goldsworthy. Adds Turkmen: “Once Olly brought in his vocals and his sense of melody, everything sort of clicked and started to come together in a new way.”
Several months prior to Alexander’s arrival, the two original members found each other by way of an ad placed online by Goldsworthy (an Australia native who moved to London in 2009 and quickly started trying to get a band together). Born in Holland and raised in Turkey and England, Turkmen had taught himself to play guitar as a kid by listening to his favourite records and working out the chords on his own. “I was a bedroom musician for most of my life,” he says. “After a while I started picking up my guitar and thinking, ‘I’ve done this before’—it just wasn’t as exciting to me.” Turkmen then moved on to making beats and working with samplers and synthesizers, again using a self-taught, instinct-guided approach that’s gone a long way in building the natural but sophisticated sound of Years & Years. “I still like making music with just my phone or iPad or whatever’s around, instead of being concerned with expensive gear,” Turkmen says. “It’s much more interesting to us to experiment like that than to have a very structured and set way of doing things.”
With their debut single ‘Real’ released in early 2014 on Kitsuné, the band were subsequently picked up by Polydor and followed this with the release of their Take Shelter EP last August, Years & Years also bring their boundless creativity to the visual elements of the band. To that end, the trio headed up the making of the video for ‘King’, a beautifully bizarre piece that managed to unnerve and enthral and delight when it premiered in early 2015. With the video racking up over 30 million views and counting, ‘King’ has also emerged as a top-ten hit in Australia and around Europe.
Fresh off a series of sold-out tours all across the globe, including selling out two nights at London’s Heaven in March and two nights already sold-out at the prestigious London Shepherd’s Bush Empire this summer, Years & Years are fast gaining recognition for a high-energy live show that adds another dimension of heart and intensity to each song. “I grew up on people like Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell, but in the past few years I’ve become really passionate about electronic music and how there’s no limits to what you can create with it,” says Alexander. “You can push the sound in this crazy way, and still keep it as real and honest and emotional as any other music out there.”