Music

YACHT: Shangri-La

Shangri-La is not about emulating a traditional feeling of paradise, but dissecting the very notion of what one would be, exploding our collective dreams of a far-off, someday perfect place -- of heaven.


YACHT

Shangri-La

Label: DFA
US release date: 2011-06-28
UK release date: 2011-07-04
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Anthem of the Trinity, YACHT's mixtape of the influences behind their 2008 album See Mystery Lights, drew from music by Nirvana, Outkast, Bad Brains, Snoop Dogg, Terry Riley, Talking Heads, Joy Division, B-52s, LCD Soundsystem, and others. That seemed like a motley crew but made sense -- in a way you could hear all of that in the album. I imagine a list of the influences behind their new album Shangri-La wouldn't be radically different, because the album doesn't sound radically different. It does feel more focused in a particular direction -- those last four bands mentioned above seem particularly pertinent. There's a strong air of the post-punk '80s, and at the same time, the album's driving rhythms make it more DFA-like in spirit, like they're taking up part of the mantle of the now-defunct LCD Soundsystem, perhaps.

See Mystery Lights was more overtly eclectic. The more upbeat numbers like "Summer Song" are a good starting place for Shangri-La, though, for all its tight dance rhythms, there's also a lot of darkness in the sound. For one, it's not just beats that kick and punch; the intricate bass and guitar-playing are just as attention-getting, and where a lot of the post-punk feeling comes from -- well, that and the vocals. Thought YACHT founder Jona Bechtolt does occasionally sing, newer member Claire L. Evans is mostly singing lead here, and stridently so, like she's leading a mass movement.

Shangri-La is not about emulating a traditional feeling of paradise, but dissecting the very notion of what one would be, exploding our collective dreams of a far-off, someday perfect place -- of heaven. The first song on See Mystery Lights had the line "Will we go to heaven or will we go to hell? / It's my understanding that neither are real." This LP starts with the idea of "Utopia" as something we can't dream up, but is in our ability to create. "There's nothing in the future / It's up to us to make / Utopia." What's on earth is all we have; it's up to us to make it a paradise. That's the album's essential theme: the future is an idea that influences us, and that we are in control of. That's their positive way of phrasing it. On the second song, "Dystopia", they offer the flipside: a vision of the world burning as we, instead of using our time to save it, dream of some future paradise. It's not theoretical; they're talking about the environmental destruction going on around us every day. They take a funk anthem and rewrite it for the chorus: "The earth is on fire / We don't have no daughter / Let the motherfucker burn."

Earth is burning on "Beam Me Up" too, or rather the whole universe is burning. These songs on the whole are written as science-fiction, but also activism. The music is full and propulsive, the lyrics as full of ideas. Hard-hitting like "Dystopia" are "Paradise Engineering", where Evans adopts a somewhat Sonic Youth-ish vocal delivery, and "Holy Roller". That one starts slow, with a creeping motion or maybe a strut, and explodes into its message, "Don’t you worry about God up above / We're gonna live life in love."

Love is in the backdrop much of the time, as a savior, if a temporary one. It's one thing we have to hold onto. Without it, we are alone ("I Walked Alone"). Still, love thrives and dies all the time, and mutates, as they tell us on "Love in the Dark", which contains the memorable, and disturbing, lyric, "I love you like a small-town cop / Yeah, I wanna smash your face in with a rock." There's also "Tripped and Fell in Love". Love, like everything else, is not planned. In that song, they take that feeling of suspense and anticipation and pour it into the groove itself.

The last song, "Shangri-La", is appropriately the prettiest. In an album that's often quite direct, it offers the most straightforward message. If there is a heaven, it's here in the places we love. If there is a hell, that's probably where all of our friends are, so let's join them. Evans sings, "When the rapture comes / If you don't mind / I'll be waiting down here and sweating." Its references to the rapture make the song feel timely, though in reality there are always people saying the rapture is just around the corner -- including, as the album continually points out, not just career apocalypse predictors like Harold Camping, but anyone who professes to know that heaven and hell exist, or that one's religion has all of the answers. "Shangri-La" is a defiant song, and Shangri-La is a defiant album. It's also a joyous one that makes a pointed argument, posited on the idea that our current dwelling place, and all of us by relation, loses so much of its potential through our focus on what might be next. The music itself often contains a joy that seems a manifestation of their hope for humanity. "If we build a utopia / Will you come and stay?," they're asking, and the question seems about music and the world at the same time.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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