It’s hard to know how most of us would react to being shut inside with only our thoughts and an unfinished album on our hands. While many might welcome the opportunity to finesse or rework the existing material, Olly Alexander opted to throw almost all of it aside and instead produce some of the most artfully deranged work of his career to date.
Night Call (★★★★☆) is the third album to be released under the name Years & Years, now Alexander’s solo project following the departure of Emre Türkmen and Mikey Goldsworthy from the group. As much as Alexander’s personality shone on Years & Years’ first two albums, going solo has allowed him to showcase the beautifully twisted contents of his mind like never before.
The album starts on a strong foot with “Consequences,” a funky, synthy opener that is unmistakably a Years & Years track. It’s true that pop music writ large has been having a disco moment lately, but Night Call cops from both old school disco and the disco-revival of the early 2000s in a way that should make most other acts blush. It is shot through with infectious dance beats, wall-to-wall synths, and intense, melodramatic breakdowns. The electronic sounds of Years & Years’ early work rear their head as well. In a move that feels a little out of step with the rest of the album, the most nakedly electropop offering, “Sweet Talker,” gets a lift from Swedish duo Galantis. The arrangements are compelling and mark a notable high-energy departure from the conceptual, cerebral tone of Palo Santo.
The album’s rich, multilayered sound is the first sign that Alexander has no interest in showing much chill this time around. He celebrates and aspires to a hedonistic lack of restraint, a thread that runs throughout the album. What’s less clear from the outset — but gradually becomes apparent — is that Night Call is a project that is artfully and unabashedly horny to its very core. Picking up a thread from Palo Santo, Alexander leans hard into sensual and evocative expressions of sexuality, playing with biblical and fantasy imagery and casually tossing off lines like “every time I’m in your bed I get what I deserve.”
Where he really embraces what he calls calls “the deranged sexual energy [he’s] always wanted” is on the standout single “Crave,” a brooding, melodramatic track with a tense beat that embraces several submissive fantasies at once. His It’s A Sin co-stars make an appearance on an incredibly decadent video for the track, featuring an erotically charged fantasy setting complete with sexy demons and horny elves (see MWTV, page 22). It’s a blatant display of hedonism that feels like a window into one of the more depraved corners of the artist’s mind.
Over the latter half of Night Call, the sense of desperation lurking in the background becomes more palpable in Alexander’s voice and in his lyrics. He pulls back a little towards the end with “Make It Out Alive” and “See You Again,” two somewhat wistful back-to-back tracks, but after this interlude he takes a turn back towards the darkly sensual. The change in tone is dramatic, with the prowling beat that undergirds “Immaculate,” a dreamy, slow-burning dancefloor fantasy that conjures images of Alexander as a dangly-earringed siren on the cover. He follows it up with “Muscle,” a less evocative but incredibly catchy and far more blunt song about lusting after a hot stranger. The song throws any pretense of subtlety to the wind, with lyrics like “I wanna take a bite and I wanna take it now.” Not ready to abandon his streak, Alexander ends things on an even stronger note than he began the album on, with the hypnotically brooding closer “Reflection.”
Night Call is a dynamic, club-ready record with few quiet moments, which suits the erratic, pleasure-seeking state of mind Alexander finds himself in. After the cerebral, conceptual Palo Santo, it feels cathartic to have an album full of strong tracks that hold up well on their own. Even the space between these standouts is serviced by solid offerings like the upbeat, playful title track. Night Call is many things at once, channeling fantasy, lust, angst, and delivering them in a shimmering, fantastical and sharp-edged package.
Night Call is available to stream and purchase on Jan. 21. Visit www.yearsandyears.com.
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