Loosely described by British author James Hilton as a mountainous wonderland ruled over by mystical monks enclosed within the Kunlun range of Tibet. Part of me feels like Portland based YACHT were not pulling their specifics from Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon when they devised Shangri-La’s basic concept. Utilizing this name more so for the location’s idealistic intrigue and façade of perfection as opposed to its “literal” location; The Shangri-La Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans have created is less a tangible place and more a collection of ideas. On this, their second album as a duo and Bechtolt’s fifth overall, YACHT present a lighthearted romp through human ethics, socio-ecological musings and a heavy dose of peace-and-love. While at first this can seem a bit overbearing YACHT find a fine balance between pompousness and pop skipping on the pretension opting instead for a celebratory look at why human beings are so fascinated with the notion of Utopia. Coupled with the same electro-punk meets psychedelic bombast they displayed on See Mystery Lights (2009).
To compliment Evan’s lyrical directness and Kim Gordon-esque delivery (albeit much prettier) she and Bechtolt have left behind See Mystery Lights’ mechanical synthesizer dominance in favor of energetic live instrumentation imbuing Shangri-La with an organic warmth. “One Step” is a wonky dictation of purpose (“Ten Steps and you’re mine!”) by way of The Talking Heads, “Holy Roller” a brazen, brassy song anchored by Evan’s wonderful half-spoken delivery and a thick bass line. While “Shangri-La” is a blissfully anthemic homage to paradise, “Beam Me Up” a punky rocker LCD Soundsystem would have been proud to call their own. Though it is the seven minute Tom Tom Club-meets-Kraftwerk banger “Tripped and Fell In Love” where the band outdoes itself. As a whole Shangri-La does not quite eclipse their last record but “Tripped…” is a near-brilliant slow-burner sopping in excitement and a hook for the ages. Showcasing this new found inspiration for spacious dance-punk and less-robotic composition best as Evans and Bechtolt cry out “All my friends became my family!” celebrating their utopian success as a wash of synthy-psychedelia shrouds them.
Of all Shangri-La’s upsides though, one cannot help but feel like concept is a bit of a killer here. While not unsuccessful the themes YACHT are playing with on this record aren’t anything particularly new and have been handled in more intricate and interesting manners even recently (Gorillaz’s ambitious Plastic Beach (2010)). Curbing themselves in a sense as the record comes off as a bit half-assed thematically, presenting rough ideas (“We live like lions/we live our lives/With no more husbands/No more wives”) coupled with loose jabs at suspect morals (“We let our children multiply 'cause we're afraid of dying.”) It is kind of like YACHT are trying to tell us “the world is hypocritical” as though it were breaking news but they do it with such fervor you cannot help but sing along. And of course the majestic solution is arms and minds open wide. A pleasant thought yes and YACHT have enough of a grin sneakily hid beneath their rallying theatrics to grant Shangri-La a redeeming air of pop paradise even as lyrically it can get a bit goofy (example: “Dystopia’s” “Let the motherfucker burn!” chorus).
All that aside though YACHT have taken a step in the right direction with their second album as fleshed-out duo. Jonah once again finds a way to meld his deep bassy synths (or even piano-driven pop) to Evan’s knockout presence. She reeks of cool and there’s little other way to describe it. But Bechtolt is just as essential with his little production tweaks and vocal manipulations bringing out the most in Claire’s voice on record. Shangri-La is their second project for DFA and it is almost fitting as YACHT have taken up the dance-punk banner held high by the now defunct LCD Soundsystem and recently-reformed Rapture. Though they share similarities, many in fact, YACHT have effectively crafted a record within their own identity moving away from the calculated-cool that DFA is steeped in for a unabashedly accessible concept and summery arrangements. And though Shangri-La is not shockingly good it is a logical expansion for YACHT to a bigger entity (five touring members) and an all-around joyous affair. More tropical paradise than mountain-top utopia; there’s still plenty fun to be had in Evan’s godless wonderland of rump-shaking electro-punk.
2. Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire)
3. I Walked Alone
4. Love in the Dark
5. One Step
6. Holy Roller
7. Beam Me Up
8. Paradise Engineering
9. Tripped and Fell In Love
YACHT is a musical moniker created by electronic musician and multimedia artist Jonathan Warren Bechtolt (A.K.A. Jona Bechtolt, born December 2, 1980). YACHT has since 2009 included musician, writer and media artist Claire Evans whose vocals had been featured on previous YACHT recordings (I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real). YACHT is based in Portland, Oregon, United States.... read more