- Only when you've spent the last seven years as half of K Records quirky, what-the-shit duo The Blow can an album like Jona Bechtolt's latest, See Mystery Lights, seem, well, kind of like a pop record. It's not that Bechtolt's swallowed his grin; it's that he's finally set it to quick bursts of kiddie anthem that allow the listeners to give or take his wit as the mood takes them (lesson: zany quasi-spiritual quests and lyrics about paranormal-light phenomenon are best swallowed with a well-cut groove).
After the Portland-based Bechtolt released a few indie-electronic records solo as YACHT on small backyard labels like States Rights Records and Marriage, See Mystery Lights is YACHT's debut for DFA Records and first as a duo, enlisting Claire L. Evans as lead for his eccentric, beat-based pop songs. More importantly, it's YACHT's sharpest, slickest record yet and one of the DFA's more instantaneous records of the last several years.
First, though, a too-perfect backstory. "Summer Song," the most immediate cut on See Mystery Lights, began as a coy love letter to DFA-chair James Murphy. Frankly, cute anecdote or not, it's easy to understand how Murphy might have heard a kissing-cousin of sorts with his own often sardonic dance gems over the years. For the most part, YACHT combine the catchy and the archly self-aware without dipping into the distance of the in-joke; if cheeky, their wild thrusts still sound inclusive, inviting. With bass notes that sound tumbled from strings of vulcanized rubber, slow, singeing effects and whirring ghost-hall vocals, "Summer Song" sounds prepackaged as its own DFA remix, a riot of dulled, sun-worn senses.
As a candyland sing-along—narcotized hand claps, tubby bass and earworm chorus—"Psychic City (Voodoo City)" is every bit the summer iPod mainstay of the track that bears the season's name, while "The Afterlife" resembles the off-kilter funkcraft of the Tom Tom Club. Elsewhere, "It's Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want" offers up boy-punk nihilism over a brawny, buzzy bassline and knot-tight drum work: "it's boring, it's boring, it's boring..."
For an album of such direct pleasures though, See Mystery Lights sometimes seems like it could have used a bit more mulling over. As a return to the tomfoolery of Bechtolt's past, "We Have All We Ever Wanted," in particular, feels too insular, a tongue-in-cheek near-rap about technology and "digital decay." With its simple whiplash-beat and an avant-pop chorus right out of a Dirty Projectors record, "Don't Fight the Darkness" struggles to get off the ground, a crude shard of song never allowed to develop. Add to this two alternate takes on earlier tracks—the "party mix" of the wriggly Afro-pop of "I'm in Love with a Ripper" and the nude lo-fi version of "Psychic City"—and See Mystery Lights begins to seem like a missed opportunity, a phenomenal extended EP bloated by the classic curse of the dance album: LP-filler.
01. Ring the Bell
02. The Afterlife
03. I'm in Love With a Ripper
04. It's Boring / You Can Live Anywhere You Want
05. Psychic City (Voodoo City)
06. Summer Song
07. We Have All We've Ever Wanted
08. Don't Fight the Darkness
09. I'm in Love With a Ripper (Party Mix)
10. Psychic City (Version)