Five years ago, when Sam Smith and Disclosure were still teen unknowns, fellow Brits Years & Years were an indie-leaning quintet with live guitars and drums. Now that soulful house music is among England's chief exports, and the group has morphed into an electronic trio with a knack for emotive dance singles, it's tempting to accuse Years & Years of opportunism. But they've got their own thing, and that's one reason their debut, Communion, stands out.
True, the album does feature "Real," "King" and "Desire," pop-house hits that earned the band a slot opening for Smith on tour and the coveted BBC Sound of 2015 prize. But behind the dance bump, Communion is confessional synth-pop with a heart full of heavy feelings. On the electro love note "Worship" and simmering breakup ballad "Without," frontman Olly Alexander, a 24-year-old former actor, is like Smith with messier emotions and dodgier metaphors. On "Foundation," which features a vibe more Weeknd chill-out than weekend blowout, he sings, "All the things I want, I really shouldn't get." He's plagued by feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty, though he'll lose himself in moments of ecstasy. On "Shine," he swoons like Justin in his 'N Sync days.