My first experience with YACHT occurred in 2007, at an LCD Soundsystem show in Seattle. While my girlfriend, my brothers and I waited eagerly to witness James Murphy’s disco-rock explosion, a spastic, shaggy dude took the stage, cued up a track and began jumping and hopping around, flailing about to the hyperactive electronic sounds emanating from his sampler. It was a spectacle simultaneously baffling and amazing, as this oddball figure presented a show that was something more like hipster performance art than an actual rock show, but it was definitely memorable. That figure, YACHT’s Jona Bechtolt, has time and time again proven to be a strange but entertaining musician, from his work with Khaela Maricich in The Blow, to his spastic solo electro outings like I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real. Yet with a new partner in Claire Evans, and new album See Mystery Lights, Bechtolt has created the most incredible work of his career thus far.
Expanding from a one-man outfit to a duo, and making the move to NYC disco super-label DFA, YACHT have expanded in every way imaginable. See Mystery Lights is still full of the quirks and craziness that made Bechtolt’s lap-pop so memorable in the past, but Evans and Bechtolt aim higher than ever before, issuing a warmer, funkier and more epic work of leftfield disco pop. Taking its name from a paranormal phenomenon that occurs on the West Texas horizon, See Mystery Lights carries with it a bit of conceptual mystery, which the duo has incorporated into the album’s seizure-inducing optical illusion cover image. And though the supernatural conceit may be a recurrent thread throughout the album, this is a party album first and foremost, and a damn fun one at that.
See Mystery Lights kicks off on an exotic note with “Ring The Bell,” an infectious and celebratory opener that incorporates some African guitar riffs and shaker percussion sure to get some bodies slithering on the floor. Its bright and buoyant sound is nigh impossible to deny, particularly when Bechtolt and Evans escalate to the mega-fun refrain of “whee-whee-whee-whee-ooooohhh.” Meanwhile, “The Afterlife” buzzes with an arty new wave sensibility, more Gary Numan than Talking Heads, but soon enough it bubbles up into a torrent of synth beeps, popping like Orville Redenbacher in YACHT’s buttery disco bag. From there, Bechtolt and Evans merely up the ante with the ’80s funk sounds of “I’m in Love With a Ripper,” its combination of big, old-school beats and vocal effects simultaneously recalling Prince and Zapp.
On “It’s Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want,” YACHT take a turn for the epic, dispensing a lengthy and hypnotic jam that grooves hard. In the song’s first half, Bechtolt and Evans repeat the titular phrase “it’s boring” in a sequence that’s anything but, while escalating to a nasty, fuzzy breakdown in the song’s latter portion. “Psychic City (Voodoo City)” is a cover of an obscure song by Rich Jensen, but also one of the most transcendent moments on the entire album. Evans sweetly declares “I told you your dreams would come true” over a delightful tropical groove that stands as one of the summer’s most joyful singles. And a similar case could likewise be made for “Summer Song,” a deep funk track that throbs with classic DFA fire and an open invitation to “move your feet to the summer song.”
Jona Bechtolt remains every bit the fun-loving eccentric that once did Calisthenics in public performances. With the addition of Claire Evans, however, YACHT has grown to become something truly magnificent. See Mystery Lights is as weird and as fun as disco albums get, simultaneously slick and sexy, and lovably geeky. That this Portland duo is able to juggle these elements without allowing them to disastrously collide is something to behold.
Video: “Summer Song”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.