Latest album from the Blow alumnus finds him joined by a different female vocalist and the backing of the mighty DFA.
Back when Jona Bechtolt was part of the Blow, it wasn’t clear how far he was going to go in a few short years. The sparse, indie-girl aesthetic cultivated by Khaela Maricich was that whole band, with Bechtolt an unheralded figure in the background, the engineer of some addictive tunes. (Incidentally, where did Maricich go? Silent on her blog, without new material in three years -- a return would really be great.) But since that time, Bechtolt has capitalised on a strong Internet tendency, building up the beginnings of a promising musical career. I Believe in You. Your Magic Is Real, a good-natured electronic album, had a stellar lead single (“See a Penny (Pick it Up)”) and a bunch of other effusive but transient songs. Then, in 2008, YACHT wrote “Summer Song” in honour of tourmates LCD Soundsystem and scored a record deal with DFA. (If only it were that easy for the rest of the hoping-for-fame masses.) Bechtolt added Claire Evans as a full-time member, and scene was set for a sprint to the spotlight.
See Mystery Lights is a DFA record not just in name, but clearly also in sound and influence. What’s more, despite the fact that YACHT still often sounds like a pastiche of successful modern indie electronica, the songs on See Mystery Lights are a clear step up from Bechtolt’s previous work. In general, YACHT have embraced the mainstream across this album even more than on previous releases, and seem content now to place Evans's disaffected vocals over simple bass lines that bounce amiably along at mid-tempo. In general, this works well, and in some instances it's something close to spectacular. "Psychic City" has already been highlighted around the traps, and yes, it's a perfect celebration. "Come on over, we're having a party for you", Evans sings, and it's the welcoming call that summer's on its way. Speaking of summer, what begins as homage soon exceeds that limitation, owning its aquatic up-beat and host of computed effects.
The problem for the project since its inception hasn't really been quality -- Bechtolt has an easy way with melody, and has been laying down interesting and fully-realized backing tracks for ages. But YACHT has consistently struggled to find a voice that doesn't sound like an accomplished pastiche of other current bands. Despite the strong material already discussed, in a few places See Mystic Lights suffers similarly. "The Afterlife", funky though it is, has the playground-tease of New Young Pony Club, while "It’s Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want" has the funk of !!! and the indie-disco of LCD Soundsystem (a ubiquitous influence). But that's not entirely a bad thing. On "We Have All We Ever Wanted", a pleasantly familiar aquatic number, Bechtolt takes Murphy's declarative rhetoric off "Losing My Edge" and makes it ecstatically current: "Protect your eyes … Be careful with the downloading … Read the comments". And throughout, YACHT playfully interacts with inspiration and influence, posting detailed analyses on their website about the genesis and inspirations for their tracks, which are of course impeccably presented. This owning of influences is important -- like any Gen Y twenty-somethings, Bechtolt and Evans are hyper-self-aware, and their music now reflects this.
When it comes down to it, though, there are other musicians doing more interesting things in electronic music than YACHT. Karen Dreijer (as Fever Ray), Dan Deacon, and even up-and-comers like Deastro and Passion Pit each have voices more immediately recognisable, and the pop acumen to make those voices appealing. Indispensable as "Psychic City" may be, See Mystery Lights as a whole isn't in the same class as these others. That doesn't mean it can't be super-fun, and doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out. But unless YACHT find a way to aggregate their various influences into something more individual, they'll remain in the second rank.