Long-running technology-pop act YACHT reached their melodic peak in 2015 on sixth album I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler. That album brought together the most playful and lighthearted of the group's influences, which could shift song to song from bounding electro to multicolored dance-pop that took notes from early-2000s Top 40 radio. It was easily YACHT's most accessible material up until that point, drawing as much from glittery disco as it did from guilty-pleasure smash hits by Len or Sugar Ray. The band's journey immediately following ITTFWBC took unexpected turns. Their publicity stunt involving a fake sex tape backfired horribly, resulting in a serious backlash from fans and led to a time of regrouping for the band. Working between their home in Los Angeles and Marfa, Texas, the members of YACHT dove into a complex creative process for their next album that involved running their back catalog through artificial intelligence programs to generate new song ideas from algorithms. It's not clear just how much YACHT relied on this robotic process for the creation of their seventh album, Chain Tripping, but the end result is decidedly colder, more distant, and more cautious than any of their other work. Instead of the colorful pastiche of electronics and hooks of past work, Chain Tripping begins with the bleak yet hypnotic disco-punk bass line and detached vocals of "(Downtown) Dancing." It's an icy, mechanical groove but sounds light years away from the extroverted dancy sound the band perfected in the past. Much of Chain Tripping exists in this cold atmosphere, with songs like "Loud Light" and "Hey Hey" sounding disconnected and aloof. While many degrees colder than their previous work, the album doesn't turn its back on pop as much as it takes a different approach to it. "Blue on Blue" is upbeat and hooky in a way that's uniquely YACHT, and one of the few moments on the album where Claire L. Evans' vocals are unable to conceal their joy. On "Scatterhead" pitched-down vocals and staccato phrasing make for a tense, static energy. Minimal and restrained, Chain Tripping is a different YACHT. While the band previously approached dystopian themes with a knowing grin, these songs feel genuinely apocalyptic. While not hopeless or broken, the fun is harder to find than on past albums. It's a nonlinear growth for YACHT, and the chilliness of the album might take a few listens to acclimate to.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas