YACHT has never been just a band. The members of YACHT (Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans) call it a “Band, Belief System, and Business.” Band, because they play music; belief system, because they attempt to construct new modes of thinking; and Business, because they’re not coy about admitting that this whole thing is also a job. That’s why it’s hard to judge YACHT’s new album, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, solely as a piece of music, because it’s also an auditory experience, a cultural manifesto, and a performance art piece. And this album, perhaps more than their previous five, consistently reinvents what it means to exist in today’s world, mangling the boundaries between reality and dystopia, between art and science. Coming from another band, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler might feel too crowded to be anything other than distracting, but for YACHT, it’s a necessary time capsule and hypothesis.
YACHT rolled out this album — their first since 2011’s Shangri-La — via a series of tech-related stunts: Periscope Q&As, fax machine album art, singles premiered in Ubers. All of this might seem thematically knotty, but for YACHT, the line from one project to the next was logical: this is what we have, and this is what we’ve ignored. When I interviewed them for The Verge earlier this year, YACHT called the album "a call to arms": "We’re still having an impossibly hard time not just plundering our planet into oblivion," Evans said. I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler is a protest album (or a prevention album) for the future. But how do you make a protest album about something that hasn’t happened yet?
One way YACHT attempts to do this is by creating a "place" for the album; to ground it in an environment that gives it a time and space in which to exist. From the album’s opening notes, the listener is dropped into an era where the music is both recognizable (New Wave synths and ‘70s funk lines are embedded in almost every track) and foreign. The album opens with "Miles & Miles," an unwieldy 8-minute anthem with staccato chants about the monotony of life: "Just like we always have, we’re born, we live, we die." That’s followed by "White Mirror," a song that sounds like Snow White’s "mirror mirror on the wall" repurposed for an alien disco.
How do you make a protest album about something that hasn't happened yet?
Once YACHT effectively unties the listener from any Earthly tethers, they get down to making a point. The thing about protesting the future is that you’re actually protesting the present — the latter being a necessary, inescapable precursor to the former. And so the songs here raise concerns that will sound familiar to anyone with a passing social consciousness. "War on Women" imagines a feminist utopia where cat-callers don’t exist and threats of bodily harm to women are obsolete. On "Ringtone," a song about constant connection, Evans chants the phrase "holding mobile plastic" repeatedly until the words begin to sound abstract. But despite the depth of its subject matter, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler never veers into self-seriousness. The lyrics are nearly always tongue-in-cheek, and Evans sings like a comedian cueing up punchlines. There’s a song on the album called "I Wanna Fuck You Til I’m Dead," with a chorus that includes the lines "It must be something that you said / I wanna fuck you til I’m dead." Evans pauses before the final word and then deadpans it. Here, death sounds both like a sarcastic threat and a very real possibility.
The problem with the album’s carefree structure is you’re never quite sure where it’s trying to take you. Everything is worthy of dissection, but that intense dissection often reaches a point of absurdity. Bechtolt and Evans do this intentionally. On "Hologram," Evans assumes a robotic falsetto, and spells out "hologram," repeating the final M so it sounds like her batteries are dying. The album’s final song, "The Entertainment" pokes fun at the images and sounds we use to distract us from real life, while simultaneously begging that we please pay attention to it.
I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler exists in an amorphous space between cultural commentary and cultural parody. It builds a case for new modes of thinking and then self-immolates its straight-laced argument with wonky time signatures and wordplay. The album’s lack of an anchor is what makes it work, but it’s also what makes it intangible. But that’s the thing about the future: it never actually gets here.