One of the most magical things about pop music is the ability it has to sound upbeat and playful, while hiding a deeper and darker side.
Palo Santo is the perfect example of this.
Tracks such as ‘If You’re Over Me’ have all the ingredients of a cheerful, light-hearted pop tune. Synthesised rhythms and falsettos included.
However, the lyrics paint a darker story of a cheating lover, emotional manipulation and even hint at denial of sexuality.
Lines such as “And I have a spent a year wondering if I had all of the blame/And love’s a bitter fruit if you choose to remain in your shame/but you couldn’t listen, no” indicate a relationship that failed due to one of the participants being ashamed of their sexuality, something all to real for a lot of people.
Underlying personal stories, such as this one are, in part, what makes this album so powerful, and addicting.
When stripped of its concept, an alternate universe which is ruled by androids, the album tells the struggles of real people.
Lucky Escape (my standout song from the album,) for example, are as close to listening to singer Olly Alexander’s actual thoughts as the listener could get.
The song captures a moment that anyone who has dated in the last 5 years will be able to relate to. Seeing an ex’s new relationship plastered all over social media.
The honesty in this track, with Olly admitting looking at the pictures that are uploaded (From all of the pictures I’ve seen of the two of you, Is he a model? I’m not surprised, you’re so vain) sets it apart from the rest of the album, which at times seems to hide behind the veil of this alternate universe.
However, in this song we hear each emotion that Olly is feeling throughout this situation ( Let’s not pretend like we didn’t have problems, And I’m back to being angry again) and at one point the lyrics even seem to comment on the revealing nature of the song (All this is too exposing.)
Once the track is finished, it is hard not to feel closer to the singer.
Photo Credit by Fiona Garden
Which is why when the album’s title track Palo Santo plays next, it is hard not to feel like you have been transported to another universe, where the album is set.
The sound of this song is so unlike its predecessor, darker and much more seductive, right from the very first few piano notes, to the eerie layered vocals at the end. The song sounds both holy and filthy, simultaneously.
The closing track for the album, Up In Flames, is one of the most unique on there. The energetic, synth used in the song is nostalgic, sounding like it has been snatched from a track produced decades ago. Paired with the echoing, powerful vocals, the song has the same amount of drama as a Netflix original, which would explain why I can’t stop listening to it.
It is easy to see that Years & Years have come a long way since their debut album, with Palo Santo oozing confidence that we didn’t even notice was hidden in the first record.
At this rate, the next record might have enough power to make their own universe a reality.
Featured Image Credit: NME / Dean Chalkley