Good-natured electronica that steals from a lot of its contemporaries, but still sounds fresh
Yeah, Jona Bechtolt has been getting more attention recently. Post-joining the Blow and contributing some addictive beats to that group's excellent 2006 album Paper Television, it's not a surprise that his new solo album as YACHT is generating a little more buzz than the Portland musician has garnered in the past. It turns out this newly-accepted member of the Society of American Magicians (same one that Gob Bluth got barred from?) has been fairly prolific over the past few years. In addition to two full-length albums as YACHT, Bechtolt played percussion on records for Devendra Banhart, Little Wings and Bobby Birdman, put out two Blow albums, and released a collection of remixes entitled Our Friends in Hell.
The extra attention's probably justified, since Bechtolt is a producer and musician with a refreshingly positive voice, one that would be a welcome addition to the pantheon of those who we think about, discuss, reference in American electronic music. Given this, it's a pity his latest album I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real comes across so, well, insipid. Like a good-natured party magician, obligingly picking your card out of a deck, YACHT's music has a surface thrill that can't quite cover its obviousness.
What we get on this album isn't bad, it just sounds like a bunch of other better electronic artists that are still relatively fresh in our memory. The opening of "Platinum" has the same rhythm as LCD Soundsystem's "Get Innocuous", a churning perpetual motion punched out on hard synths. "See a Penny (Pick It Up)" uses the same pattering steel drum beat that's all over the Knife's Deep Cuts album. But most obvious is "Your Magic Is Real", which with its shout-out list of partially recognizable names recalls Mylo's "Destroy Rock 'n' Roll" directly. YACHT's song is not as successful as Mylo's -- Brechtolt's voice is too high, too excited, and when he plays up the showmanship at the end (adding, "and you, thank you") it's a bit over the top. His musical trick here is to signpost each point of interest, announcing what he's about to do; on this track, it's a change-up of the beat, throwing the natural emphasis of the words completely off. But it also happens elsewhere on the album (like when he announces a guest or a fake solo), and though it's initially interesting, the trick is shallow, and becomes gimmicky after two or three listens.
More consistent throughout the album, though, is a strong influence of British pop-electro outfit Lemon Jelly. Opener "So Post All 'Em" opens with an easy guitar groove that gradually builds with a horse-trot rhythm, and more traditional electro-house sounds like it could be an LJ track from the "Staunton Lick" era. Another trick Brechtolt's fond of is compositional: he tends to repeat a phrase (in the case of "So Post All 'Em", it's "I couldn't say no, but I learned how.") a number of times at the beginning of a track. Songs generally then shift into an expansion of the rhythms and sonics established in the background, blossoming into a conventional electronica track, and that's it. Sometimes a second subject will be introduced too late in a song, so we don't have enough time to fully appreciate the new idea before the song ends.
Look, it's all so good-natured you have a hard time not feeling charitable. And a few songs really do stand out. "See a Penny (Pick It Up)", the song that did the blog rounds and served as the de facto single for the album, easily distinguishes itself from its Knife-isms, building up with nicely wide-sounding complexity towards track's end. It also establishes what, if anything, constitutes YACHT's style -- multi-tracked vocals singing out long, droll melodies. And "We're Always Waiting"'s lithe parody of "My Humps" still brings a smile: "We want all that stuff, all that stuff that costs too much ... are we owned by our own stuff?"
If YACHT's endless positivity sometimes wears thin, as when Bechtolt chants, "Do what you love, love what you do", or on the closing song's weird "women of the world unite" vibe, there are just as many moments where it really does feel genuine. That's where the greatest hope for YACHT lies. All the computer manipulations and showy effects just obscure Bechtolt's gleeful aim to create something truly unique and wonderful. He's got it in him -- whether it emerges as a Blow project or on a future album from YACHT, only time will tell.