See Mystery Lights
3.5 out of 5 stars

If it wasn’t already obvious that YACHT’s See Mystery Lights would be considered the quintessential summer album of 2009 by the indie-hipster-trustafarian demographic, frontman Jona Bechtolt makes it abundantly clear on the album’s aptly titled “Summer Song.”

Over bubbly pop melodies and quirky riffs, the song captures the fleetingness of summertime while simultaneously encouraging listeners to put down their briefcases and put on their dancing shoes. In fact, Bechtolt makes this a command when he shouts, “Move your feet to the summer song!” This is an artist who certainly knows how to get a party started.

Bechtolt is no stranger to electro-dance pop. He has been an active collaborator in a variety of synth-pop projects, most notably the Portland-based outfit The Blow. Bechtolt, however, quit all his prior commitments in 2007 to focus exclusively on YACHT, a solo project he began in 2003. Following a string of well-received releases, Bechtolt added vocalist Clair L. Evans to his formerly one-man show.

Evans and Bechtolt recorded YACHT’s seventh release in Marfa, Texas, using the area’s isolated scenery and a famed supernatural phenomenon as a form of inspiration for the group’s most recent compilation. When asked in a recent Q&A with Teen Vogue how the group would describe the album in three words, the duo was clear: “Raw Supernatural Power.”

Bechtolt continued by identifying Marfa as the album’s single greatest inspiration, describing the area as “incredibly powerful place, with blinding sunlight in the daytime, lithium in the drinking water and an unexplained optical phenomenon called the ‘Mystery Lights’ that takes over the sky every night.”

See Mystery Lights likely succeeds in capturing the area’s appeal, as it stands on its own as a synth-heavy release with a certain unearthly quality. From upbeat ruminations about religious themes (“The Afterlife”) to brooding electro-pop incantations (“Don’t Fight the Darkness”), the record triumphantly recreates Marfa’s eerie preternatural splendor.

The influences of life in small town America are clear in the monster track “It’s Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want,” a nearly nine minute epic screecher that uses a bare guitar riff over a consistent drumbeat to emphasize the simplicity — and at times tedium — that comes with small-town life. After a three-minute interlude, the song sharply changes direction, introducing some synth burbles and a more dance-friendly feel, fitting the album’s general electro-dance atmosphere.

The song later becomes a bit repetitive and stale as it reaches its last few minutes and it could have certainly benefited from a substantial edit. Even still, the track stands out for its raw post-punk vibe and a strong emphasis on the merits of life outside the bright lights of a big city. These characteristics, particularly the song’s reliance on non-electronic based influences, allow it to stand apart from the rest of the album’s more pop-centric efforts.

While Bechtolt has recently stated that most of his influences tend to be “non-musical,” the band recognizes that an assortment of outfits have indeed played a heavy hand in influencing YACHT’s most recent offering. One of the more comical musical references is “I’m In Love With A Ripper,” an electric wonderland that gives a sly wink to T-Pain’s own professed love for exotic dancers. It shines above the rest of the tracks, which probably explains why the band chose to release a remixed “Party” version. Both tracks exemplify the group’s ability to churn out quality electro-synth beats with moderate triumph.

While the rest of the album could have benefited from focusing primarily on YACHT’s electropop-based talent, See Mystery Lights certainly emphasizes the group’s ability to combine a wide variety of musical influences and reconfigure them into a unique auditory experience.

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