Yppah is “happy” spelled backwards, but that isn’t terribly apparent from listening to Gumball Machine Weekend, a teaser EP for Joe Corrales’ full-length album They Know What the Ghost Know (since released on June 23rd in the U.S.). It’s not that this new music is sad or particularly unhappy, nor is it angsty, spiky, or risky. Actually, it’s not much of anything. Happiness seems to have been the goal, as it was on Yppah’s 2006 debut, You Are Beautiful at All Times, but a combination of questionable choices and lackadaisical execution results in a record that’s no more joyous than a partly cloudy day.
You Are Beautiful at All Times was a lovably ramshackle indie-electronic scrap heap—highly melodic and seemingly always a half-step behind itself. On Gumball Machine Weekend, Yppah provides structure to his elements and suffuses his music with more historical references while surfacing with something altogether less inspired. His new sound is slightly rougher, coated in a dull wash of un-shoegaze reverb, its psychedelic swirl chained to a grid by the presence of geek rock. Maybe this is geographical associations playing tricks on me, but Yppah’s previous music always struck me as quite American (Corrales is from Houston, Texas) on the basis of its rootsy and strangely patriotic sense of idealism. Gumball Machine Weekend feels American too, but in a different way: it sounds clean, stodgy and blandly domestic, like a well-kept 1981 Buick. The title track is Yppah’s shot at a homegrown vintage pop tune, whose key is so lukewarm and instrumentation so flat-footed that it fails to conjure much of a good mood even as it hits that summery ‘60s surf vibe squarely on the nose. By comparison, “Shutter Speed” is verily drab, a middling, not-really-much-of-a-song song backboned by an incessant Farfisa taking the form of a synthetic Hammond B3 organ.
So Gumball Machine Weekend is nothing to get excited about, but that warrants 5 out of 10 PopMatters pogs. What sinks this little record down to a 4 is the issue of commercial value and spending your good money on it. GMW contains only five songs, three of which appear on They Know What the Ghost Know in unchanged form (and not the best ones, I might add; the proto-Lilys jangle pop of “Sun Flower Sun Kissed” would have dissipated some of the stiffness). Its raison d’être, then, would be the two additional tracks: a remix of “Gumball Machine Weekend” by New Mexico-based junk rocker Pollination and a b-side called “The Drag”. Although Pollination’s own music provides a fascinating spin on indie electronica, his remix is mostly a nonevent, likely due to the low-wattage material he was given to work with. “The Drag” speeds up the rhythm section and shoots a wiry guitar line through some ethereal synth pads; one imagines it as the soundtrack to a mid-20th century drag race on a hot day, the sun’s rays pinging off the blacktop. It’s almost danceable actually, in a Dan Deacon sort of way, and it’s the best thing on here by a mile. So pick up “The Drag” and leave the rest of Gumball Machine Weekend alone, for as I’m writing this it’s already two days past the American release of They Know What the Ghost Know, and this EP has now become as irrelevant as the sound that defines it.