Despite starting as a tongue-in-cheek moment, Yacht Rock Revue have firmly embraced the genre and its possibilities.
For rogue philosophy maven Slavoj Žižek, the most radical action one can undertake is to engage with something utterly at face value, to take literally what’s said without the all-too-easy route of irony as a safety net. So equipped, Yacht Rock Revue’s new album Hot Dads in Tight Jeans offers us a way of listening in line with the demands of the yacht rock genre. The origins of yacht rock are widely argued, with one possible precursor being the cover art of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1977 album CSN and Christopher Cross’s 1979 single “Sailing.” Whatever the starting point, most agree with Timothy Malcolm that yacht rock “can be characterized as smooth and melodic, and typically combines elements of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock,” and needn’t necessarily invoke the ocean, literally or metaphorically. All of which is suitable for Yacht Rock Revue who, despite starting as a tongue-in-cheek moment, have firmly embraced the genre and its possibilities.
So, in all seriousness, what do Yacht Rock Revue offer? From the outset, the album is a shimmering FM-evoking amalgam of influences and styles. Opener “The Doobie Bounce” starts with a gentle crackle of vinyl before the drum machine-introduced groove settles in behind Nick Niespodziani’s high-register vocals and we’re quickly told that “Keeping up is overrated/ It gets too complicated/ I’d rather have some fun,” by which he means “I want a doobie, yes I do ….” The backing vocals sit comfortably alongside the handclaps giving the chorus a suitably party-in-full-swing vibe. If anything, “The Doobie Bounce” suggests the kinds of summer grooves of Fat Freddy’s Drop, just with added layers of sheen and glisten.
“Step” swings YRR closer to disco with falsettos, hand claps and a brass solo that’s note-perfect in its evocation of 1979. Between them, the album’s first two songs offer the twin poles of the YRR sound. With a little variation, there’s either disco-echoing and mirror ball grooves, or summer party jams, and they’re all adroitly handled. “House in the Clouds” offers a white reggae party track that sits between 10CC’s “Dreadlock Holiday” and Squeeze’s “Up the Junction,” while “Another Song about California” ventures towards chart friendly synth pop. “Change of Scene,” with its tempo changes and mid-range synth work, is the most Steely Dan of the tracks, and closer “My Favourite Stardust” brings everything together in another party-friendly mix-up, radio friendly sounds and reggae tempos for the synths, disco for the drums, Europop for the vocals.
The problem with taking the joke seriously is that one must consider what it might mean to both include and exclude it. To be clear, YRR state from the outset that this is, if not parody, then certainly a means of both exploring and recuperating parts of popular music culture that might have burnt out quickly for being too saccharine to begin with. The band’s website notes that while they most obviously reference the yacht rock genre’s stars – Kenny Loggins, Chris Cross and so on – they also consider themselves aligned with bands like Air or Phoenix, and have worked with producer Ben Allen who can claim Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley as prior clients.
So, joke aside and at face value, YRR are slick and smooth, at home with the genre enough to stray broadly into related fields, all the better to create a party-like atmosphere that’s no less effective for being so carefully manufactured. Nevertheless, many of the songs suffer from a clutter that comes from working to ensure all seven members of YRR are equally represented and once one strips away the references and in-jokes, not a lot of substance remains – not that there ever really was in yacht rock to begin with. But lay the joke over the top like a rosy-tinted pair of beer goggles and all’s right with the YRR world, from the matching double-denim outfits in their promo photos to those moments where Niespodziani tells us that ““I used to sleep on couches/ Now I sleep on nicer couches.” In the end, it’s the listener’s choice to take seriously or not, and it’s a mark of the album’s attention to the genre that whichever route you choose, the road is pleasant and well-crafted and leaves barely a trace of itself once completed.