See Mystery Lights (DFA Records)

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Portland electronic pop mastermind Jona Bechtolt has a thin voice that always sounds at least half in jest. When mentally projecting it onto a Web manifesto he posted in advance of See Mystery Lights, his project’s debut for DFA, lines like “YACHT seeks to explore frontiers and to expand awareness of extraterrestrial Intelligence -- which is not only real, but necessary,” read like a smart aleck’s goof. So acceptance for his new record’s sincere, frontloaded metaphysical concerns comes reluctantly. The record starts with two songs focused on the afterlife, “Ring the Bell” and, uh, “Afterlife.” In the former, Bechtolt wipes the slate clean, denying the existence of Heaven and Hell over a deeply groovy track that gathers significant momentum as it progresses. But it’s not until the latter smartly hands off the definition of positive beliefs to new vocalist Claire Evans that her sing-song sass manages to suggest less conflicted conviction. As his work on the Blow proved a few years back, Jona is best at programming seemingly simple tracks that actually contain an army of oddly flailing component parts. A nimble female voice just seems to navigate these sounds better. “I’m in Love With a Ripper” breaks the news that goony Auto-Tune is not enough to circumvent this basic truth. The album’s most oddly charming lyrics aren’t Jona’s at all, but brought over intact from a super lo-fi 1987 K Records-released cassette track by Oregonian chum Rich Jensen called “Voodoo City.” The reworked “Psychic City” thankfully hands them to Evans, who grants the narrative’s talking kitchens and instantaneous love affairs with the breezy panache of pure pop. Focus has been a problem of YACHT’s from the start, and most songs here have their restless digressions, alternately providing intrigue or distraction. But the tight, relentlessly direct rhythm of “Summer Song” sounds like the band pulling it together for a DFA entrance exam (they passed!). Like the tracks showcasing Evans, it finds a way to sharpen Bechtolt’s winking, eccentric creative voice. That newfound capacity makes the short and slightly spotty See Mystery Lights feel like a big bounce in the right direction.


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