See Mystery Lights is YACHT's first album as a duo -- vocalist Claire Evans is now a full-fledged member alongside beatmaker/primary instigator Jona Bechtolt -- and their first for DFA Records. Though initially surprising, their shift from a tiny Portland indie to N.Y.C.'s premier independent dance label was in many ways eminently logical: YACHT's playful electronic beats, party-friendly eclecticism, off-kilter poppiness, and array of male/female, spoken/sung (mostly spoken) vocals already had a lot in common with the DFA sound, and particularly with the label's flagship act, LCD Soundsystem. (Their previous album's "Platinum," for instance, bore a more than passing resemblance to LCD's "Get Innocuous.") Musically speaking, the differences between See Mystery Lights and its predecessor are hardly dramatic: the songs are lengthier and fewer, the beats are tighter and more dance-oriented, but the same fundamental elements and energy are all still in place. And energy is key: if most of the DFA stable draws on a hip, wryly detached downtown aesthetic, YACHT's outlook is typically a good deal sunnier, embracing an ethos of childlike innocence and personal affirmation (with just a slight shading of artily ironic distance). Concurrent with this album (which was named for the paranormal optical phenomenon haunting their adopted home base of Marfa, TX), Bechtolt and Evans made things considerably more complicated (or, arguably, just more distracting) in that regard: declaring YACHT to be just a band, but also a Belief System; inviting anyone to "join" (via the online "YACHT trust"); issuing cryptic manifestos online and in print; displaying a conspicuous obsession with triangles; and propagating a series of aphoristic mantras (including one borrowed from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and, perhaps the most worrisome, "YACHT is not a cult") -- all adding an inscrutable, somewhat sinister undertone to their positivity.
Despite the mass of verbiage and iconography, it's hardly clear what they're getting at with all the quasi-occult trappings, apart from creating some marginally intriguing art, but thankfully understanding it is completely unnecessary for enjoying the music. The only album cuts with an overt lyrical connection to this pseudo-spiritual business are the first two numbers (both built around repeated nursery rhyme-like incantations about the afterlife) and "Don't Fight the Darkness," which turns the Maharishi's mantra into a loopy bit of sparse, Timbaland-ish IDM. Despite some reasonably inventive beat programming, they're probably the least interesting things here, sounding dry and labored in comparison to the freewheeling fun of obvious party jams like the cheeky "I'm in a Love with a Ripper," with its T-Pain-jacking Auto-Tune hook, and the very-DFA "Summer Song," an affectionate if derivative disco-punk homage built on a solid foundation of cowbells, handclaps, and an all-mighty bassline. Though the album as a whole makes for an enjoyably unpredictable hodgepodge of summery, celebratory, and frequently quirky sounds, individual numbers often suffer from a sort of ambivalence of form, as though they couldn't decide whether they wanted to be pop songs or dance tracks -- it's telling that the two most effective moments both feature a clear and engaging structure, albeit very different approaches. The biggest earworm is "Psychic City," a laid-back groover that borrows the curious verse lyrics (and linear song form) of a 1987 song-poem by K Records' Rich Jensen, adding the self-evident refrain "Ay-Ya-Ya-Ya!"
But See Mystery Lights' biggest leap, and most surprising success, is the two-parter "It's Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want," which abandons pop linearity altogether in favor of an extended, expansive beat workout, kicking off with unprecedented guitar-driven punk-funk intensity, then delving into a hypnotic, Afro-tinged groove powered by frenetic drumming and swirling, chanted vocals. It's by far the album's longest cut and also the clearest indication of why DFA is an appropriate home for YACHT -- to the extent that it could almost be written off as a mere LCD Soundsystem/Juan Maclean ripoff (which, perhaps, if you want to be a real killjoy, makes it in turn an Arthur Russell/Brian Eno ripoff...) if it weren't so compelling and enjoyable in its own right. YACHT focus most of their (musical) energies on making goofy, offbeat pop in the frivolously fun vein of good-vibes heroes Tom Tom Club, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that -- it's their best quality, and that certainly remains true on See Mystery Lights -- but this track in particular demonstrates that, when they so choose, they can be equally adept at channeling the fearlessly adventuresome spirit of Talking Heads, and there's definitely nothing wrong with that either.