REVIEW | YACHT Embraces Change With 'Strawberry Moon'

julia 12/01/17

"A lot has happened since the last time YACHT released music," the group wrote in announcing the release of its new EP, Strawberry Moon. Though band members Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans made clear in the rest of the announcement that they were referring to the world at large, the statement could as easily have been referring to Yacht itself. Last year, in addition to an election that shook the worldview of many in the art and media worlds, Bechtolt and Evans provided Yacht fans with their own microcosm of a fake news crisis. After the two pretended that a sex tape they made had leaked, it became clear that the move was a hoax designed to garner attention for a music video, leading to backlash from media and fans.

"It's a different world. We've been wrapping our heads around it," Yacht's announcement continues. This is presumably in reference to Donald Trump becoming president, but more than just that is different. The seeming shift in how the music world is responding to claims of sexual harassment and other sexual violence in the post-Weinstein moment was prefigured in the response to Yacht's sex tape stunt, which many felt inappropriately made light of actual revenge porn. In 2016, perhaps Yacht could reasonably claim not to have expected such a response to its publicity stunt, but in 2017, such unawareness seems unthinkable. It's in this landscape that Yacht has put forth its latest, and perhaps is related to why the EP feels more apolitical than much of the band's earlier work.

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The standout track is "Strawberry Moon," a song that's closer to a standard indie pop hit than pretty much anything else Yacht has done. It's beachy, warm, and full of coy innuendo ("You came too soon / It's three in the afternoon / Now there's nothing to look forward to"), an updated "Afternoon Delight" by way of electronic pop. "Strawberry Moon" is reminiscent of Bechtolt's earlier work with The Blow, as well as drawing some influence from the lo-fi, female vocalist driven style of acts like La Sera and the Dum Dum Girls.

The EP's other strongest song is "Look Alive," which is slightly less pop than "Strawberry Moon," but still equally catchy. It's also different from what Yacht normally does, but it uses the band's signature combination of bouncy, enticing beats and unexpectedly dark lyrics: "One of the guys / He has been radicalized / Ladies, look alive." There are strong notes of optimism, too, as in the lyrics, "Don't run and hide / The only way to change your mind / Is to vocalize." The song's layered, echoey chorus turns the lyrics "look alive" from a warning into a psychedelic call to action. Though the song is quite different from "Strawberry Moon," it's similarly indebted to California sunshine pop. If the Mamas & The Papas had a synthesizer, it might sound something like "Look Alive."

Longtime fans of Yacht will find the most familiarity in "Hard World," a dance-pop hit full of the band's classic hyper-cynical exuberance. The song's upbeat, slightly funky backing is layered under Evans' singsong spoken word vocals, which inform us, "If everything's alive / Then everything hurts / Then everything we do is the worst." There are also unexpected hints of earnestness—"It's a hard world / For the little things," goes the track's hook.

The EP's remaining songs, "Shame" and "Finger Like A Gun," aren't far off from Yacht's earlier work, either. But both tracks feel something like watered-down versions of the band's earlier standards. Unlike "Dystopia" (2011), which takes a real, if psychotic, pleasure in the declaration, "The earth is on fire / We don't have no daughter / Let the motherfucker burn," or "Psychic City" (2009), which opens with nearly a full minute of guttural, utterly joyful "Huh"s and "ay yeah yeah yeah"s, these songs don't seem cheerful. A tone of genuine sadness and nihilism lurks under the surface.

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Rather than encouraging us to revel in the fucked-up nature of the world, as Yacht typically does, these songs seem to suggest we should look away. There's a bit of a remove here, both in the musical quality—an excess of guitar soloing in "Finger Like a Gun" and endless lyrical repetition in "Shame"—and the lyrical content. In "Shame," rather than delving into a personal emotional conflict, the speaker "look[s] at a stranger" and "wonder[s] what it takes her / To live through another day." "Finger Like A Gun" presents us with "the emoji of a fist" rather than the fist itself.

Where "War on Women" (2015) told us "The war is over if you only close your eyes / The war is over if you want it / If you want to tell yourself a lie," "Finger Like A Gun" insists, "It's a nice oblivion," and "Shame" simply says, "I'm fighting realness… Fight the authenticity / With what's left of feeling." Instead of sarcastically pretending to look away from reality in order to emphasize how glaringly awful it is, here Yacht is genuinely looking away from reality. It's telling that instead of the gleeful depravity of titles like "Dystopia" and "I Wanna Fuck You Til I'm Dead" (2015), Strawberry Moon instead chooses "Shame" and the image of a toy gun.

Even when Yacht isn't at its best, it's still innovative and extremely danceable. But it's in the songs which are least like what the band has done previously that the most joy and creativity emerges. "Strawberry Moon" and "Look Alive" are each, in their own way, clear departures from Yacht's earlier work. A lot really has changed since Yacht's last album, and it feels like the group is still figuring out precisely what that means for its music. But it's clear that, in the meantime, Yacht is moving in exciting new directions.

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Julia is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY, who covers politics and pop culture with a focus on labor and gender. Follow her on Twitter.

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