Add to library: ‘All For You’, ‘Palo Santo’, ‘Up In Flames’
Years & Years introduced their second album with two uninteresting singles and a preposterous concept.
So it’s a relief that Palo Santo is a solid collection of tropical electropop, dripping with sweat, tears and charisma from frontman Olly Alexander.
The title refers to a pansexual metropolis that sprung from Alexander’s imagination, a place where androids rule, and humans are plucked from the streets to writhe around on a stage, using their flesh to provoke genuine emotion in an audience of automatons.
The accompanying short film is the kind of thing a person dreams up after eating a block of cheese and watching Blade Runner. It’s a lofty gimmick, but at least it’s one that articulates the record’s inherent queerness rather than obscures it.
What Palo Santo does successfully is depict the life of a socially mobile, twenty-something gay man in 2018. Across atmospheric ballads and glow-in-the-dark dance tracks, hookups (‘Rendezvous’), heartbreak (‘All For You’) and internalised homophobia (‘Preacher’) are each captured in golden melodies.
Like 2014’s Communion, images of Catholic flagellation appear as thinly-veiled metaphors for anal sex. When written to bouncy, playlistable beats – ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Preacher’ – they make for welcome additions to the band’s canon. First single ‘Sanctify’ exhausts the premise with a plodding tempo that had me checking my watch, but as the opener it’s inoffensive.
Alexander brings an unapologetically queer perspective that deserves to be heard loud-and-clear. Trailblazing? Absolutely not. But his visibility shouldn’t be taken for granted in the current political climate.
Forget the sci-fi window dressing – by bucking heteronormativity, Palo Santo is a futuristic work in its own right.