At about the point during “Paradise Engineering” when Claire Evans sings (speaks) that “the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely datable event,” followed by a series of new-age platitudes and left-wing hand-wringing, I start to feel physically ill while thinking of those perfectly manufactured hipster faces. The lyrics get to be THAT bad on YACHT’s new album Shangri-La
. I mean, the goddam song is called “Paradise Engineering” for Christ’s sake. Not that I particularly expected lyrical virtuosity from a dance-punk/synth-pop record, but from the Baby’s-first-drug-induced-philosophy-book to the lines that try to aim big and end up saying nothing at all (is the former not the same as the latter?), I’m never sure if I want to laugh or scream. But for all the lyrical ho-hummery and Noah-and-the-Whaleisms, Shangri-la
proves to do what any good album on James Murphy’s DFA label does: be ridiculously fun to listen to at parties with all your indie-loving friends.
Neologisms aside, YACHT pack the disc’s forty some-odd minutes with the most hooks since, well, the last YACHT record. At times there are maybe too many
hooks at the expense of flow and song-writing. The album drags slightly in its middle section as a result, but judging from the lyrics Shangri-la
is hardly shooting for subtlety. Instead it relies on bright, extroverted melodies that attempt to pound themselves into your brain. Opening track “Utopia” begins affairs with a brilliant guitar jangle that signals the upbeat nature of the album (like, duh, they’re finding utopia and ***). At the opposing end, the eponymous closer is one of the strongest cuts with an infectious chorus that asks “if I can’t go to heaven let me go to LA.” In between these bookends are moments such as the throttling pulse of album highlight “Tripped and Fell in Love.” Shangri-la
is a treasure chest of sugary synth-pop hooks and danceable beats. This is definitely an album you could totally drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon too and have some fun with your ironic friends.
Yet it comes back to those lyrics when talking about what holds Shangri-la
back from being greater than it is. There are a few musical missteps to be sure, but for the most part the hooks are grand and the production lush. No, the problem with the album lies solely in the lyrical content – but it’s more than a simple matter of terrible lines like: “if you want me to be your father I will be your dad / and if you want me to be your mom yeah I will be your mom / and if you want to be your God then I will be your God.” The thematic approach leads to a greater sense of falsehood surrounding the album. The problem isn’t so much because the duo are making an album about man’s search for Utopia, but rather it is the lack of tongue-in-cheek in the whole affair that proves problematic. Their ideas are false; they come across as faux-hippies without a wink or a nudge but merely the appropriation of simply doing what hipsters ought to be doing. Whatever they ought to be doing is lost in mess of lame ideas buoyed by big hooks and pop flourishes. Remember that time when Sir Thomas Moore wrote a satire about Utopia? YACHT would be among those who thought he was actually being serious.