Sections

The Sanctity of Gay Sex

Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:

“Palo Santo” from Years & Years will be released on July 6. | YEARSANDYEARS.COM

Years & Years are huge stars in the UK, with their 2015 album “Communion” and single “King” hitting #1 there, but so far their success in the US has been far more limited, with “Communion” peaking at #47 here.

Although they play a very accessible style of dance-oriented pop, the fact that singer/ keyboardist Oily Alexander is openly gay is implicit in the lyrics of “Sanctify,” the first single and opening song of their second album, “Palo Santo.” He has said that the song is about his experiences having sex with men who identify as heterosexual but are nevertheless drawn to sex with men. It addresses religious guilt very openly, in a way that comes across as an update of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin.” However, Alexander takes the perspective of a clergy offering the possibility of healing to a troubled man. The song has been released in several remixes, including one by New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner that improves on the original version.

Alexander has cited Britney Spears’ collaboration with production team the Neptunes on her songs “I’m A Slave 4 U” and “Toxic” as the inspiration for “Sanctify,” and one can hear this both in Years & Years’ choice of drum sounds and the overtones of kinky sex in its video. Beyonce’s “visual album” for “Lemonade” may have kickstarted this trend, but in 2018, Drake, Childish Gambino, and minimalist indie rapper Tierra Whack have released music whose full meaning is only evident when one watches its accompanying videos.

Years & Years look for dance floor redemption

Years & Years’ “Sanctify” video offers up imaginative queer futurism, depicting a world where humans are toys of an alien species. In it, Alexander is placed in a collar, then freed to dance for a stationary audience of aristocratic aliens. If his movements suggest liberation and joy, it’s a false and temporary one.

This theme is continued in the album’s second video, “If You’re Over Me.” By this point, “human cabarets” have become institutionalized, and Alexander performs the same routine, halfway between burlesque and ballet, endlessly, as the video cuts between dance and backstage scenes with other people. These videos use science fiction to address the fact that minority artists often wind up commodifying their pain for audiences that don’t share their experiences and consume it as mere entertainment.

There’s a current tendency in mainstream pop to aim for a compressed sound that avoids extreme low and high ends and sounds loud on cheap computer speakers and headphones. “Palo Santo” fits into this, with production that is extremely slick and trebly. The ballad “Hypnotised” aims for something different: airy sound, with reverb on both vocals and piano, to the point where the latter sounds somewhat blown-out. The album’s final song, “Here,” is another ballad, which says its piece in 92 seconds and relies on overdubbed vocals with no other instrumentation, coming across like a synthesis of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and the Beach Boys. (On the album’s deluxe version, it’s meant to be an interlude leading into three bonus tracks.) “All For You” is an extended kiss-off to a greedy and selfish lover. Years & Years’ aesthetic is strewn with religious imagery, as one can tell from the title of their first album and song titles here like “Sanctify,” “Karma,” and “Preacher.”

Heartbreak and the difficulties of love are not exactly innovative subjects for pop music, but just as Swedish singer Robyn brought a feminist context to them, Years & Years brings queer politics to them. “Preacher” says, “Just imagine just how good I could look on your shoulder… I’m trying but you knock me down/ I want to love you, but you’re hiding/ You should come on out/ He’s a preacher, but he’s preaching lies/ I could be your salvation.” Without using the word “gay,” the entire song is about the influence of organized religion on homophobia, the danger of the closet, and even the difficulty of public displays of affection for gay men. “Lucky Escape” celebrates leaving a relationship with a manipulative man.

I have to say that the artificial mid-range loudness of “Palo Santo,” while it’s common enough to define 2018 pop music, gets very grating. While their lyrics give Years & Years a bite that Timberlake or Justin Bieber doesn’t have, the production on this album often works to detract from their impact. I have a feeling that remixes of later singles will end up improving on the originals.

There’s a strain of mainstream dance music that acknowledges the darkness people turn to the dance floor to escape: the Pet Shop Boys, Robyn’s 2010 classic “Body Talk,” Charli XCX’s 2017 mixtape “Number One Angel” and recent single “5 In the Morning,” which describes a night of clubbing with an irritating would-be lover and wonders, “Would you stick around for the comedown?” At best, “Palo Santo” gestures toward that and expresses some of the difficulties of living out gay male sexuality right now. It succeeds about half the time, especially on “Sanctify” and “Preacher,” and succumbs to pleasant blandness the other half.

YEARS & YEARS | “Palo Santo” | Interscope Records | Drops Jul. 6 | yearsandyears.com

A 15-minute film that accompanies“Palo Santo” can be found at youtube.com/watch?v=gfsndFf0PU8&frags=pl%2­Cwn

Updated 2:20 pm, September 4, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:

Reader feedback

Comments closed.

Classifieds

Schneps Community News Group

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter:

Optional: