Ever since I watched the weeklong special on The History Channel about how the world is scheduled to end in 2012, part of me has been living my life with that expiration date in mind. Hundreds of dead birds falling from the sky… Thousands of fish washing up on the shore… Sarah Palin… All signs point to looming apocalypse. As a result, my pseudo-subconscious attitude for the past year or so has been something like, “Well, the universe may implode soon, so I’m gonna go to another music festival now, and worry about finding a real job after December 2012.” In other words, “the earth, the earth, the earth is on fire/we don’t have no daughter/let the motherfucker burn.” At least that’s how indie-electro art-rockers Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans of YACHT put it in “Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire)”, the compulsively danceable single off their newest LP, Shangri-La.
“Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire)” is our post-apocalyptic fight song, a cautionary tale, a science-fiction story for our particular eco-socio-political landscape,” explains the band’s website. “But as tempting as it is to give into a horror of our crumbling, radiation-leaking, bomb-launching reality, where the tracks lead is ultimately up to us.”
With Shangri-La, YACHT takes us away from this crumbling, radiation-leaking, bomb-launching reality on a fuck-all magical mystery tour of chimerical musical landscapes laden with beguiling beats and sparkling synthesizers that leave us dancing in the face of doom.
“If there was a hell/that’s where I belong/for breaking all the rules/and singing all these songs,” chirps Evans in “Paradise Engineering”, a tambourine-filled call to come together and create a bliss so large that it dissolves all the world’s negativity. “And if you want me to be your god then I will be your god!”
There’s a certain magic in being able to shake your booty to music with heavy themes, and YACHT nails that duality perfectly here, whether they’re discussing God, love, or the space-time continuum. Opening with some rather ominous religious intonations buoyed by echoing snaps and stark synth spikes, “Holy Roller” explodes into a grooving odyssey of big brass crescendos, electronic bass wobbles, and a catchy hook assuring us not to “worry about God up above/we’re gonna live life in love!”
And don’t worry about getting bored either, because love is no tired platitude in YACHTopia. “I love you like a small-town cop/Yeah, I want to smash your face in with a block,” the duo croons on the slow-burning “Love in the Dark”, before heading to the cosmos, where frenetic beats, low-pitched, stuttering vocals, and literary allusions aplenty make for a pretty sublime combo in “Beam Me Up”.
Overall, Shangri-La prevails as a light-hearted piece of social commentary, addressing the woes of organized religion, global warming, and the daily grind without ever surrendering to self-pity. In fact, the record begins and ends in paradise, but the bright and bubbly “Utopia” for which the opening track is named (where we’re told that “there’s nothing in the future/it’s up to us to make”) is a very different place than the concluding title track. “Shangri-La” feels like the ultimate exit music, the bright and bubbly notions of “Utopia” now fleshed out with a gratified sense of enlightenment, a more clearly delineated sense of the same kind of secular contentment that Belinda Carlisle sang about in 1987. “If I can’t go to heaven let me go to L.A.,” trills Evans over a bouncy piano-laden melody as sweet and bright as a lollipop in the sun. “If we build a Utopia, will you come and stay?/Shangri-la-lala-la-la-lala-la-la.”
Can I get a hell yeah? When the world ends, I’ll be joining Bechtolt and Evans. We’ll build a new world, where bliss reigns and people sing instead of talking and dance instead of walking. You can come, too, if you want.