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Following the artistic breakthrough of 2009's See Mystery Lights, Yacht's second album as a duo (and second outing for DFA Records) continues to mine a fruitful blend of new wave, dance-punk, and playful electro-pop, this time with a slightly tighter, poppier focus. Effectively a stylistic extension of its predecessor -- which is certainly nothing to complain about -- Shangri-La benefits from a marginally more song-oriented, vocal-centered approach, informed by the loose lyrical theme suggested by the title. As laid out in songs like the opening diptych of "Utopia" and "Dystopia" (also issued as two sides of a 7" single prior to the album's release), the basic position here is that all the potential for paradise (or hell) exists right here on Earth, and lies within us: "there's nothing in the future, it's up to us to build utopia." It's a stance that falls right in line with Yacht's familiar brand of ambiguously earnest/ironic sermonizing and sloganeering, toeing the line between rosily sincere, communitarian self-empowerment and pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo, and Claire Evans mounts that pulpit with gusto throughout, breathlessly declaiming that "the future exists first in our imagination, then in our will, then in reality." Sneakily, pointedly, the same song ("Paradise Engineering") also features lyrics paraphrased from infamous cult-leader Jim Jones ("If you want me to be your god, I will be your god"), echoing Evans' impersonation of a sleazy self-styled prophet on the anti-clerical "Holy Roller" (with its worrisome reference to "drown[ing] fears in napalm"), as well as the tantalizing flirtation with transgression explored on "One Step." So, as with the band's black-and-white color scheme (and the triangular happy/sad faces they've recently added to their iconography), there's room for both darkness and light in Yacht's vision of paradise ("and even in Arcadia, ego ego ego!" Evans wittily/nerdily interjects at one point.) Musically however, Shangri-La keeps things fairly light and upbeat, with plenty of memorable, chanted vocal hooks and a satisfying mixture of live and sequenced instrumentation. Standouts include the zippy disco-punk of "Utopia," with its hyper-kinetic rubbery bassline, and "I Walked Alone," which evolves from bouncy, midtempo funk (featuring ample cowbell and some goofy, octave-shifted vocals) to breezily infectious piano house. Things get a bit bogged down with the plodding, murky "Love in the Dark," while the lengthy "Tripped and Fell in Love" sadly fails to redeem the promise of See Mystery Lights' excellent epic "It's Boring," opting instead for an overly polite seven minutes of static Motorik disco. But on the whole, Shangri-La is far more heavenly than it is hellish, and Yacht save the best for last with the lilting, largely electronics-free title-track, a dreamy, gently anthemic evocation of earthly paradise complete with strings, cooed choral vocals, and wispy, tastefully deployed strings.
Review by K. Ross Hoffman
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