Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander is poised to become one of 2015's biggest new stars. His band's likable, pop-radio-courting debut "Communion" (Interscope) is almost beside the point.
Alexander, best known for his acting roles in the British teen drama "Skins" and in Showtime's "Penny Dreadful," has the sweet, soulful vocals (and, oddly, the curly-top hairstyle) of a young Justin Timberlake. He and his Years & Years pals, synth player Emre Turkmen and bassist Mikey Goldsworthy, won the BBC's Sound of 2015 award, a poll of critics that predicts the year's breakout stars. (It has previously forecast big years for Sam Smith and Adele.) And he and boyfriend Neil Milan of British dance sensation Clean Bandit, the "Rather Be" hitmakers, have become the power couple of sorts for "The London Sound," popularized by Smith and Disclosure.
Smith's influence is felt throughout "Communion," especially in the way Alexander wraps his silky vocals around ballads like "Eyes Shut" and upbeat numbers like "Worship." But Years & Years puts their own stamp on "The London Sound" with the way they utilize the Pet Shop Boys' combination of soaring synth melodies and melancholy lyrics.
It's what makes the group's single "King" so special, along with the memorable synth hook. And it makes "Desire" a thrilling throwback to the early '90s, when house music ruled dance floors around the world.
Sometimes, Years & Years gets a little too wrapped in the trappings of its songs rather than their melodic cores, resulting in songs as bland as their titles suggest, like "Memo" or "Ties," which kind of sounds like it was rejected from the last Maroon 5 album.
Regardless of the strength of the material, though, Alexander's star potential shines through, transforming middling songs into good ones and good songs into ones that will launch careers.
THE GRADE B+