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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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YACHT See Mystery Lights (DFA)

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In a classic interview addressing the topic of “the inevitable backlash,” LCD Soundsystem’s commander-in-chief James Murphy pointed out that blending elements of rock and dance music was “typically… a really really bad idea, with really really bad results”. Of course, Murphy’s DFA label continues to act as a facilitator for the production of some of the finest examples of a collision of aesthetics that has become increasingly commonplace since his production work on The Rapture’s Echoes established its initial blueprint. Unusually, for an artist best known for producing post-millennial dance music, Murphy has largely eschewed the possibilities offered by the sheer processing power of the computer (you’ll never hear an AFX’d drum line on an LCD Soundsystem album). Rather, his trademark sound is defined by the presence of nostalgia, particularly for the analogue age. This exclusion of the digital leaves a gap that makes for an obvious evolutionary next step, should anybody feel they could rise to the challenge of disproving his aforementioned claim.

Fast-forward to 2009, almost a decade since that cowbell whipped us out of what the Dismemberment Plan once infamously referred to as “Doing the standing still”, and we find recent DFA signing YACHT (aka. Jona Bechtolt, formerly of The Blow, and new member Claire L. Evans) taking the Rapture’s original formula and running with it. Straight to their illuminated MacBook keyboards and single-pane touch panels. The product of this evolutionary experiment is their fourth album, See Mystery Lights.

Opener ‘Ring the Bell’ begins with a palm-muted guitar riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an AC/DC single. Then there’s the percussion, a watery, thunking sample that wouldn’t have been out of place on Merriweather Post Pavillion.

In fact, it’s pure digital, and it’s the kind of thing that you’d never hear in a conventional Murphy production. But the most obvious example of YACHT’s willingness to employ computer trickery can be heard in the electronic treatment of the vocals, which have been playfully pitch-shifted into upbeat dance inflections. At first, these are single, repetitive jumps, up and down the scale, but at the conclusion of the first verse Bechtolt’s voice undergoes a remarkable alteration at the hands of something resembling an arpeggiator plug-in. If sound could be made visual, picture a representation of a male voice being split from its monochrome whole into a multicoloured burst of rainbow bright.

It all makes for a wonderful opening statement, made even more compelling by some smart production decisions. For much of See Mystery Lights YACHT takes the risk of avoiding dominant mid-range sounds. Instead, Bechtolt and Evans prefer to entrust a simple mix of bass, miniaturised percussion, paired-down guitar and high-pitched synth flourishes with the responsibility of carrying their songs into the strobe-lit terrain of the dance floor. ‘I’m in Love With a Ripper’ (which, as its title suggests, draws its hook from T-Pain’s mainstream hit ‘I’m N Luv’ (Wit a Stripper)’) is the undisputed highlight. Its glue is a driving, delay-soaked bassline, over which Bechtolt scatters a dazzling panoply of production tricks: Vocoderised vocals, microprocessed drum drills and insistent laser bleeps. They’re all present, and perfectly layered too, like a well-dressed hipster venturing out into an autumnal chill. On ‘Psychic City (Voodoo City)’, a clean, straight guitar strum provides a no-frills backdrop for yet another mishmash of electronic elements, while Evans drawls “We’re having a party for you” between spoken verses that recall some of The Dismemberment Plan’s finest moments.

Unfortunately, YACHT fall just short of producing a document capable of soundly disproving Murphy’s bad-combo thesis, because two of its eight proper tracks (the 9th and 10th songs are a remix of ‘Ripper’ and a brief-but-still-annoying a cappella reprise of ‘Psychic City’) are completely disposable. ‘The Afterlife’ is a mid-tempo talkfest with a clichéd hall-of-mirrors chorus that spends five minutes going nowhere. Worse, its location at second drop all but kills the momentum that YACHT had so painstakingly built up on ‘Ring the Bell’. Even more disappointing is ‘Don’t Fight the Darkness’, a track whose spartan structure lacks the brightness and vivacity that characterises the rest of the album. And as if that wasn’t enough, its chorus features the kind of down-pitched vocal sample that might have sounded okay on a mid ‘90s Daft-Punk b-side, but whose presence here is entirely unwelcome, especially given that most of See Mystery Lights finds YACHT looking forward, rather than back. Still, 6/8 is a commendable success ratio, but don’t take it from me. Instead, wait for next month’s party playlists, which, I suspect, will provide ample proof that YACHT are more than worthy of the expenditure of your body’s kinetic energy.

Ratings:

Mainstream: 3 Stars
Indie: 7.7
Kim: Makes the iPod

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Comments (6)

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  1. matthew says:

    this sucks and also i think you’re gay

  2. Juliet says:

    Matthew PASHED Kim.

  3. another dirty hipster says:

    your writing’s cute but you sure like to suck James Murphy’s dick don’t you

  4. Margaret says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Margaret

    http://guitarlearntoplay.net

  5. kieran says:

    the best song is psychic city the rest… not so much

  6. james beavis says:

    disagreeing SO HARD on im in love with a ripper

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