Jona Bechtolt-- founding member of YACHT, former member of the Blow-- is a huge talent, something that may not have been readily apparent on any of his three previous LPs. Those albums, created largely as solo endeavors, will not have prepared listeners for See Mystery Lights. Now an official partnership between Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, who performed on several songs on 2007's I Believe In You, Your Magic Is Real, YACHT finally feel like a full-fledged band with direction and vision, particularly given the added weight (or rather, levity) of Evans' influence.
The songs on See Mystery Lights-- from the bouncy, burbling you-can't-take-it-with-you screed The Afterlife (which plays like a less spastic companion piece to the Mae Shi's Run to Your Grave) to the roller rink-ready vocoder vocals of I'm In Love With a Ripper-- represent YACHT at their most poppy. It's a collection of stone jams that finds the band finally as hellbent on experimenting and expanding the boundaries of its sonic scope as it is on having fun. Built on electronic foundations-- laser effects, skittering computerized beats, and spacey synth lines (or guitar riffs that have been tuned or distorted to sound like synths)-- these new songs are giddy with creative freedom while remaining tethered in service of their melodies. The vocal melodies are bright and buoyant, but delivered (by either band member, or in unison) in a chanted, oftentimes detached monotone that plays up the repetitive lyrics' mantra-like feel and adds a welcome undercurrent of slacker cool to their otherwise sugary optimism.
See Mystery Lights also marks the first time that YACHT are recording for DFA. Normally a label-change wouldn't be notable, as it is usually less an indicator of artistic choices than it is of financial or business ones, but moving to a label with such a distinctive aesthetic may be enough for many to reconsider their work. YACHT themselves created the track Summer Song as an homage to LCD Soundsystem, and LCD/DFA leader James Murphy liked it enough to release it on his label. It's no wonder that Murphy was smitten; the track, which also appears on the full-length, echoes the deadpan vocal delivery and burbling 80s krautrock synths of his own band, as well as cowbell-and-handclap percussion ripped from the Rapture's House of Jealous Lovers, one of DFA's biggest singles. Even other tracks on the collection-- ones that weren't written specifically in homage to Murphy-- can't help but sound influenced by him. Case in point: We Have All We've Ever Wanted, with its minimalist dance beat, heavy bass, and Bechtolt's dry, talky delivery, recalls Losing My Edge, albeit with a lighthearted, anthemic chorus.
Still, while YACHT clearly share influences with Murphy's gang (Eno, Ferry, Neu!, ESG, etc.), their positive, futuristic jams actually sound most closely related to Tom Tom Club. Perhaps that's because, like Tom Tom Club's first self-titled album, which was recorded in Barbados, See Mystery Lights was recorded in a sunny, faraway locale-- in this case, far from the band's native rainy Portland, Oregon, in Marfa, Texas. The vibe of the album is relaxed and sun-soaked-- especially Psychic City (Voodoo City), which features an elastic groove built on a dubby, reggae-ish keyboard melody inspired by the bassline of Althea and Donna's Uptown Top Ranking.
Regardless of influence or intent, however, See Mystery Lights is a triumph. It's a feel-good album for an era that could use a little happiness, a sweaty collection of heady, hedonistic tunes just in time for the hottest days of the year. And the best part is that one spin of thiof this wily, sunny disc will be able to transport you back to summer vacation any day of the year.
8.5/Best New Music --Pitchfork (Rebecca Raber)