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The road to Communion has been anything but straightforward for Years & Years. Initially formed after synth player Emre Turkmen answered bassist Mikey Goldsworthy online ad for a guitar player, frontman and keyboardist Olly Alexander was then added by a stroke of serendipity after Goldsworthy heard him singing in a mutual friend's shower. Since then, the band has underwent a series of transitions (at one point there was an additional two members) and adjustments (out went the the bass, guitars and melodica), as they sought to calibrate their sound and overarching aesthetic. Tangible recognition of a job well done came in January when the band won the BBC Music Sound of 2015 critics choice award, which was followed up a month later by the chartbusting 'King' - the band's first number one hit. With Communion, they finally stand with the crystallized end-result from years of conscientious refinement, yet the surrounding hype and outside pressure dictates that it's a record as much in thrall to expectation as it is self-discovery.

Now signed to major label Polydor, Years & Years are the chips in a game of big stakes, with Alexander even going as far to put his by now-established acting career on hold for the past 12 months to focus fully on the music. The frontman has described Communion as a record written in a time of "post-breakup, post-relationship and post-rejection," with album opener, 'Foundation', a world removed from the macro-pop stomp of previous output. "Your head looks good, I wanna love it so much" pleads Alexander to a backdrop of overwrought soundscapes and slightly odd, cosmic arpeggios. Less ersatz is the appropriately titled 'Real' with its hand clap beat and throbbing bass, while the peppy 'Shine', the chart follow up to 'King', is pleasant, if not lacking the X-factor of its predecessor.

Turkmen and Goldsworthy have cited Flying Lotus, Diplo and Radiohead as influences whereas Alexander's love of hip-hop can be gauged by the fact his Twitter bio is solely made up of Princess Superstar lyrics (rather than lame ironic appropriation, he is genuinely enchanted by early '00s R&B), yet even in its slower moments, Communion never manages to break from the shackles of patinated radio-friendly sheen. 'Take Shelter's' du jour tropical keyboards are only matched in triteness by its telegraphed Weeknd-lite choral refrain ("do what you want tonight, if you want to get used, then get used!") and although 'Worship' captures Alexander's falsetto at its silkiest, the verse melody sounds dubiously similar to Lady Gaga's 'Paperazzi'. 'Eyes Closed' attempts to mix things up by swapping synth for piano but ends up falling flat and saccharine, leaving 'King' - its prismatic pop shimmer still wildly infectious - to haul things out from midpoint mediocrity.

Things begin to run out of steam by the time the album gets to 'Gold', which, along with 'Border', is the type of phoned in filler that feels like a reworking of everything that's come before in the first half. When you finally reach closer 'Memo', a passable enough ballad, you sit feeling thankful for your sanity's sake that you've been spared the 16 song deluxe edition. In an age where artists as inflammatory as Whiz Khalifa and the Weeknd can find top 10 mainstream success, it's galling that such an ostensibly interesting pop band (they namedrop FlyLo, wear clothes by streetwear brands like Palace and even performed on TFI Friday) have been sterilized to the point where they instead sound like an act purpose built for playing T4 on the Beach. Communion may be the end result of years of refinement, but you can't help but feel it was reached on someone else's terms.

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