Years & Years – Palo Santo
Underwhelming and weedy on first listen, this British trio’s electropop benefits from car play. That’s how I absorbed 2015’s Communion and how “Shine” became my single of the year. I don’t hear a song on their second album as essential as that queer starfucking anthem. Olly Alexander’s positioning himself as an independent entity doesn’t augur well for Y&Y’s future; he lacks the songwriting chops to sustain interest for an album’s worth of material. Collaborating with adult contemporary yawners Kid Harpoon does not help matters. But when Alexander remembers that combining sacral overtones and gay male lust results in boom boom bap Palo Santo takes off: “Lucky Escape,” the hornball title track, “All For You.” As evidence that Alexander and his mates are out of their minds, confining the freestyle-copping “Up in Flames” to a deluxe edition tops the list.
Florence + the Machine – High as Hope
Few recent albums were as aptly titled as How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + the Machine’s 2015 release. It’s as if Florence Welch and her collaborators politely listened to Mumford and Sons and Walk the Moon and the other makers of early 2010s blowzy-rock and figured out how to color in a grand scale while maintaining a sense of intimacy. Still big, sometimes blue, rarely beautiful, High as Hope disappoints: the songs are smaller but Welch emotes as if she were at the Metropolitan Opera House, resulting in a mismatch between form and content. The keepers: “Big God” and “Patricia,” the latter a valentine to Patti Smith that doubles as a celebration of Welsch’s own uneven incantatory powers. “South London Forever,” however, illustrates what makes High as Hope such a frustrating experience. Staccato piano bits and rattling percussion represent the limits of co-producer Emile Haynie’s imagination; a reminiscence about being high on E, holding hands with someone Welch met needs more frisson than caffeinated Adele.