Years & Years – Communion (3 stars)

Debut album channels a watered-down take on Disclosure and an X-Factor version of Sam Smith

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Years & Years – Communion

(Polydor)

Topping the BBC’s annual Sound Of… poll is no jinx or career hindrance, as previous champions Adele, Haim and Sam Smith will no doubt tell us.

Yet, let’s face it: it’s not by any stretch of the imagination a watermark of originality or deserving. Search through the longlists and you’ll find some sharp, original artists, but the confluence of critical opinion which doubtless doesn’t want to get caught out saying something silly brings the most commercial artists to the fore. It should be called the Sound of Bands Who Want to Get Played by Nick Grimshaw award.

Which leads us to Years & Years, this year’s winner. Headed by actor (there may be an irony here) Olly Alexander – who’s appeared in films by Jane Campion, Mike Newell and Roger Mitchell, in Skins and in Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl – the trio dilutes everything you’ve heard and kind of quite liked from the pop charts of recent times into one easily digestible whole. From the soulful Sam Smith groove of ‘Take Shelter’ and the number one hit ‘King’ to the watered-down Disclosure-meets-Gorgon-City house of ‘Real’ and ‘Desire’, they take club styles to the big pop stage.

It’s a tactic which, at its best, is often sonically pleasing; not least on the opener ‘Foundation’, a track which fuses the breathy vocal style of James Blake to the minimal electronic grind of Tangerine Dream, a strange combination to say the least.

The rest of the record is less unlikely, but only rarely does it slide into something unpleasantly formulaic, more often than not where things go a bit X-Factor earnest on tracks like ‘Real’ and the closing ‘Memo’. Largely it’s, let’s be honest, wallpaper music, but it’s that rare kind of wallpaper which draws your attention momentarily to the attractiveness of the design and the quality of its manufacture.

Communion is out now on Polydor. Years & Years play the BBC Three / Radio 1 Stage at T in the Park, Strathallan Castle, Perthshire on Sat 11 Jul; ABC, Glasgow, 17 Oct.

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