A dozen years ago, as From the Hip was in its infancy, we did a lot of live concert and band portrait photography. Danny’s background in music journalism meant getting to work with fun acts like Chromeo, STRFKR, and Sebastien Tellier. As From the Hip has grown, it’s meant doing this sort of work less frequently, but we were excited to make an exception this month for one of our favorite acts, YACHT. Here’s the piece we wrote for our friends Cause = Time, where this review first appeared.
Despite their knack for innovative electro-pop witchcraft, “GRAMMY-nominated trio YACHT” isn’t a phrase many of us expected to encounter in 2020. Yet there was Claire Evans, in a brief lull between songs on the Larimer Lounge stage, lithe and beaming, her eyes and voice proclaiming, “We’re going to the GRAMMYs!”
There was a certain blushing disbelief in her enthusiasm, too, as though the reality of hobnobbing with the Eilishes and Grandes of the world was simply the latest glitchy punchline delivered by the Simulation’s wry sense of humor. Truthfully, though, there isn’t an act who has relished living on the bleeding edge of music-as-artform the way YACHT has over the past dozen years.
When founding member Jona Bechtolt welcomed Evans into the fold for their 2009 DFA debut, See Mystery Lights, it signaled a hard shift beyond mere post-punky intertextuality toward a new realm where albums or live performances were simply catalyzing agents for a treasure trove of non-musical exploits and interventions. Installation art, literary publications, mass media publicity campaigns, tongue-in-cheek consumer goods, and metaphysical pamphleteering have all been deployed as part of the YACHT toolkit in service of engaging in the maladies and marvels of art in the information age.
All of which led them to their nomination in the unheralded “Best Immersive Audio Album” category for their latest LP, Chain Tripping. It was a three-year undertaking, the culmination of feeding their back-catalog into machine learning algorithms which chomped up YACHT’s previous studio efforts and spewed forth the new record’s underpinnings. This recursive act of creation, aided as it was by artificial intelligence, is both central to the group’s philosophical predilections and also completely irrelevant: in the end, Chain Tripping is a banging, dislocated dance record that succeeds independent of any chin-stroking or theorizing.
With multi-instrumentalist Bobby Birdman in tow, Bechtolt and Evans gave a performance pulled nearly exclusively from Chain Tripping’s ten tracks. Bechtolt pinballed between a set of electronics rigs at either side of the stage as Evans commanded center stage; since joining, her playful posturing and outright exuberance have become the hallmark of the band’s live sets. Tossing out an occasional throwback (as with the propulsive “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler”), their new album was performed for an underappreciative audience. It is a challenge to not be swept into motion by the thumping groove which carries so many of YACHT’s songs, yet there were the RiNo assembled, doing their best impression of lukewarm oatmeal. What can you do?
If the three people onstage noticed, they didn’t let on. Their set was joyful and ecstatic. Perhaps they were already buoyed on thinking about Sunday night in Hollywood, the elbows to be rubbed, the surreal adventure awaiting them a few hundred miles down the interstate.
In the end, the GRAMMY went to Morten Lindberg, a Norwegian producer of classical music. He’d held the ignominious distinction of being the musical Susan Lucci, boasting a string of 28 GRAMMY nominations without a single win. YACHT’s loss meant the end of Lindberg’s unfortunate streak. Thinking about the fun they had on stage on Thursday, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed in the slightest.