Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Years & Years – Sanctify

Submissive, straining queerness.


Joshua Copperman: “You don’t have to be straight with me” in a song about discovering someone else’s sexuality already makes “Sanctify” beyond criticism, but I’ll try my best. My problem with Troye’s “My My My” was the way it felt restrained even at its most bombastic, while this succeeds because of the inverse. Even without much more than heavy bass, tribal percussion, an arpeggiated synth line, the steaminess cuts through, and it’s not only believable, it’s intense. There’s an edge present that I wasn’t expecting at all, but clearly it was the right path for Years & Years if “father forgive me for finding the truth” and *the entire chorus* are any indication. If “My My My” felt like being at a remove, “Sanctify” is urgent enough that it sounds more like a come-on from Olly Alexander himself. The slightly overdone vocal production sometimes threatens to block that tension, with watery filters and unnecessary pitch-shifting on the verses, but once that chorus hits, it’s clear that nothing will get in his way. 

Will Adams: Olly Alexander’s fixation on elevating queer desire to a religious experience — as shown via a quick readthrough of the song titles on Communion (also that) — feels more like an afterthought on “Sanctify.” There are some breath catching moments, like the “you don’t have to be straight with me” play, but overall it’s a lot of SIN without much payoff (or retribution in this case, I guess).

Alfred Soto: With Troye Sivan showing more than one way to serve queer electronic pop, Years & Years return for another sweetly sung ode to sadomasochism that many listeners won’t catch. Fans of their debut will note the gospel tropes, musical and lyrical, of salvation; fans of queer tropes will note Olly Alexander’s fascination with the St. Sebastian School of Pain. The bass is thicker, the keyboards less an unguent. Key line: “You don’t have to be straight with me.”

Katie Gill: This is a bit of a bizarre percussion section. I mean, I love the song overall. It’s a catchy song, ‘I will equate you with religion’ is always a solid lyrical theme to hang your hat on, and I’m going to have that chorus stuck in my head for the next week, but the backing on the verses feels a little bit like a version of that Jimmy Kimmel bit where they play a song with children’s instruments, but run through a weird keyboard setting. 

Katherine St Asaph: This is what it would have sounded like if ‘N Sync had done a requisite BDSM track (instead of doing a requisite cybersex song, since apparently someone required that), right? Can’t remember if they ever did a requisite homoerotic “Like a Prayer” take, but this would also be that. The song’s got too much of the No Strings Attached goofiness to really go there, but it gets closer than their infinite peers usually do. Plus, the sound and timeframe are dead on: this would sound exactly right next to “In My Pocket.”

Maxwell Cavaseno: I did say we needed a respite from pop-house acts, but I didn’t expect one of the more capable ones to decide what we needed was something that sounded like a missing JC Chasez solo-cut. For all the melodramatic pulsing, “Sanctify” sounds more like the dull thud of presumed success, and offers little to no reward besides its own sense of importance.

Scott Mildenhall: You don’t get much more massive than “It’s A Sin”, and not least because its remit was all-encompassing: sinfulness as all-pervasive. You have to pare down that scope to get to “Sanctify”, a song with the creep of something more specific, and where the sense of guilt is transferred more locally; from down low rather than down on high. For a song about relieving such a burden, it’s weighed on heavily by others’ sense of transgression — the “sin” is all the subject’s, yet not sung as such. Maybe some people can say they actually like such a state, but like this, it sounds inescapably uneasy. You shouldn’t have to embrace darkness before it gets light, but when the two are at the height of battle, “Sanctify” might suit. The sense — or the certainty — is that the light must win.

Claire Biddles: I feel the absence of touch in every nerve of my body. I spend hours of each day wondering if my desire could still, hypothetically, take the shape of a real living thing, or if it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of all the positions I’ve been in while getting fucked: thighs bent unnaturally over shoulders, stomach burning on carpet, teeth biting down on tongues and bottom lips. I look for something tangible but there’s nothing and nobody has even looked at me in months, almost a year, and soon enough I can’t even remember what it’s like to have fingertips on my skin, never mind what it’s like when I instruct the faceless person they belong to to tighten their grip. No base desire, no complex desire. I’ve forgotten. I’m empty. I read some self-help article that tells me I should take some naked selfies to feel like a sexual being again and I laugh out loud even though I’m by myself in a public place. I’m in a public place when I first watch the video for “Sanctify”, when I first see Olly Alexander being paraded in front of hooded strangers in a thick gold collar, promising that he knows what I am and then showing me. I watch Olly look up at his keeper and silently prompt him to take over, and in that moment, there it is — the desire I can no longer look in the eye because I don’t dare. So much of Years & Years’ music is tied up in submission, and the strange authority that can come with willingly giving oneself over — “tell me what it is you want” — but they’ve never been more autonomous. “Sanctify my body with pain”: A sure voice, an instruction. Something sparks in the depths of my chest: I recognise that feeling, one I can barely put into words. Every time I listen to “Sanctify”, I try to mirror what Olly is showing me, try to unfurl the desire that felt intangible for so long — I’m tying my sweat-soaked clothes around my waist, ready to go.

Reader average: [7.37] (8 votes)

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5 Responses to “Years & Years – Sanctify”

  1. death, taxes, and Claire giving Y&Y high scores with phenomenal blurbs

  2. so is Max giving [2]s in response to Claire’s highs

  3. another one for the c & m buddy cop writers room

  4. (and thank u for kind words will!)

  5. lmao


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