If there were a competition to crown the city whose indie-scene displayed the most idiosyncratically fantastical dance moves Portland would probably run away with the title. At least in the male division. If Panther’s floor-dancing was not enough to cinch it, whatever Jona Bechtolt does on stage certainly would be. At a recent show, opening for LCD Soundsystem, Bechtolt entered enigmatically, interrupting the pre-show DJ set by adding some improvised harmony vocals to the track playing, before asking the crowd—as he lay hidden behind a wall of equipment—if they were ready for him. He then launched into the first track, “We’re Always Waiting” from his latest album I Believe In You. Your Magic is Real., and proceeded spastically into a fit of vocalizing and dancing that suggested a grunged-out, northwestern-hipster Napoleon Dynamite. I’m not sure that anyone was ready for it, but by the end of the set a lot of people had fallen in love with his zany, endearing brand of positivism and the disjointed, funky beats that come along with it.
Like Bechtolt’s work with The Blow, I Believe You exudes an awkward charm that makes one think of Miranda July in Me and You and Everyone We Know. He tends toward lyrics that try to simplify the complicated issues facing a human being living in an increasingly complicated world and offers equally simplistic solutions. Exemplary is “Magic Beat” and its insistent repetition of the line “Do what you love, love what you do.” Bechtolt seems aware that he may be opening himself up to criticism from those who may object to the apparent self-helpish content of his lyrics, but follows his own advice anyway. He obviously loves what he is doing and believes what he is saying. It suggests the John Lennon adage, something to the extent of “Say what you mean and mean what you say and put a beat behind it.” Bechtolt definitely puts a beat behind everything he does and his beats are becoming some of the most instantly recognizable around. Equally infused with hip-hop and electronic influences, they pulsate through any number of twists and turns, steadying for a moment before lapsing into a stuttering staccato of buzzing shrapnel. Whereas some of his lyrics come off as recycled platitudes, the beats that he sings over are complex and stylistically diverse.
I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real. opens with a solitary acoustic guitar, quickly joined by an elastic electronic pinging and a steady bass beat. The track, “So Post All `Em,” consists of one repeated phrase more or less: “I couldn’t say no, but I learned how.” At the show he introduced it as “a true story,” and the song seems like more of a story than its limited lyrical content would suggest. Something about it evokes a hard-earned levity, the successful separation from a pivotal problem in one’s life—in this case, the inability to say no. Its open structure and minimal lyrics allow for its sonic suggestiveness.
In contrast, the following track “See a Penny (Pick it Up)” is a constricted meditation on the luck accrued in the act of picking up discarded pennies. Bechtolt, doing some Prince channeling, lays down a falsetto vocal over the track’s persistent, and persistently embellished, rhythm. Like many of the tracks on I Believe You it features a climactic spazz-out, in this case one in which all of the different elements added to the beat throughout the track are brought back in at once. “It’s All the Same Price” takes this tactic to an altogether different level. The song is centered on a digression. Or maybe the song itself is the digression, simply an excuse for YACHT and Eats Tapes to get together on an electro freak-out of epic proportions. It’s not the only time this happens on the album and the points at which the structure of Yacht’s songs come completely apart to allow for extended bouts of dance-inducing rhythmic psychosis are some of the most engaging.
Electronic and indie music continue to engage each other in new and unexpected ways and from most signs they will come to do so more and more. Always playful, prone to playing at poignancy, Jona Bechtolt is an original figure in that musical landscape. Whether indulging in danceable discoesques (“Platinum”) or genre-hopping pop (“It’s Coming to Get You”), he leaves an indelible stamp—consistently mind-bending and light-heartedly earnest—on everything he touches.