This review comes to us courtesy of a guest TMIM contributor. Please email any comments to Fred.
From solo project to full-on electropop wonder: that’s the short version of the nine-year evolution of YACHT. Over the course of five albums, they’ve continually redefined their sound, first by adding a second vocalist and then by adding a full roster for live shows, billed as the Straight Gaze. The Portland, Oregon band released their fifth full release Shangri-La on June 21, to overwhelmingly positive reviews. This is a 10-track journey throughout multiple electro-infused soundscapes, resulting in what could newcomers can trust is a comprehensive YACHT primer.
Shangri-La is an unabashed concept album, exploring such themes as religion, the apocalypse, and the afterlife. The band seamlessly mixes digital with analogue, and to say that the album is riff-laden would be an understatement. These guys really know how to lock in a riff, be it guitar, synth, the ever-present bass, or the drum grooves that keep you moving on the dance floor or in your desk chair. Shangri-La ranges from the more hard-edged guitar heavy tracks to whimsical synth explorations … while all seeming like one seamless composition.
I walk away from this album loving the whole thing, but with only one hook stuck in my head: “The earth, the earth, the earth is on fire. We don’t have no daughter. Let the motherf**ker burn.” That lyric — backed with a hollow sounding synthesizer on the track “Dystopia” — hasn’t left my brain since first listen. “Dystopia” pairs nicely with the previous track, “Utopia.” “Holy Roller” provides stark contrasts between its spacious verses and its heavy dub step-influenced chorus and keeps you hanging on throughout. The record ends with the whimsical title track, raising the question of being allowed to at least return to LA or Texas for those who can’t get into heaven.
Lyrically, Shangri-La flirts with the delicate line between parody and purity. While many other dance-tinged tracks in the industry will forego meaning or depth for the sake of the groove, YACHT seems to bump right up to that line with insanely catchy hooks that — when placed in the context of the song– really tend to carry an unexpectedly heavy meaning. Additionally, YACHT isn’t afraid to treat this album as what it is…a concept album. Many other artists often try to prescribe that term to an album that in no way carries a theme, while others will often avoid the term in fear that it will taint the album’s meaning. But Shangri-La is a digitized romp in all things after-life.
“Beam Me Up” and “Paradise Engineering” leave something to be desired individually, yet they tend to fit into the overall scope of the album. At other times the instrumentation can get a bit repetitive, but in these instances it is usually forgotten as soon as the loose, carefree vocal harmonies come back in to preach their message.
Shangri-La is a double threat: an album that will please the current crop of YACHT fans, and should appeal to an entirely new herd of listeners as well. The songs are dance floor-catchy, and the lyrics are often minimalistic yet intellectual and full of meaning at the same time. The instrumentation will please even the casual listener with the natural crispness of the electronic instruments contrasted with the more full electric guitar chops throughout. My recommendation is buy this thing, and if you’re not quite willing to purchase right away…stream it, then you’ll buy it. This is one album every house party host and electronic music fan should not be without.