The evocative title track off YACHT’s forthcoming album I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler taps into a universal sentiment many of us smartphone-wielding zombies and social media-addled butterflies know only too well. While YACHT masterminds Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans are pointing out the future’s un-coolness they are ironically doing it in mind-blowingly cool terms.
Witness the duo’s brilliant high-concept album announcement last week that used no less than seven media platforms folded into each other to promote the title of their fifth full-length album (and first for Downtown Records, out Oct. 16). This involved a billboard with the words “I THOUGHT THE FUTURE WOULD BE COOLER” writ large (in “radical minimalist typography designed in Japan”) at the intersection of Los Angeles’ La Brea Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard; a drone video of the installation posted on YouTube; a Google Maps listing with the geographical coordinates; a live two-hour Periscope stream with the band stationed beneath the billboard handing out Risographed flyers; tweets by Google and the band. It’s all a promotional stunt, to be sure, but one with an infinite and impressive longtail that will live in perpetuity as long as there’s Interwebs and WiFi to be had.
Listen to “I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler,” which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
“We’re trying to beat the machine at its own game,” says Evans, whose congeniality and warmth belies a razor-sharp intellect that at times evokes concepts proffered by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan or deconstructionist Jacques Derrida that aren’t always easy to follow. The duo have spoken at the Wired by Design conference, Evans gave a TED Talk and they are in the middle of designing no less than three different websites.
“We are living in this interesting age where if something happens in the real world without any online documentation it’s as though it didn’t happen,” Evans posits. “At the same time if something happens online with no physical component it also feels as if it’s not real.” Evans concludes that the only way to make things feel real is to create experiences that contain “a little bit of both” the online and offline worlds (okay, we’re completely lost).
On Aug. 11, the band went with old-school technology and sent out album artwork via fax machine to 300 fans who were first to request them online along with a manifesto. Why, you ask? Because “there are 17 million fax machines in the U.S., one every 4.7 square miles,” fax technology “uses audio-frequency tones” to transmit images and “the artist David Hockney loved faxes,” are just some of the reasoning and context behind this high-concept promotion.
The day before, YACHT went all-in digitally in revealing I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler’s track listing, “a tracklisticle” if you will, by creating their own GIFs and writing up a brief synopsis of each song. They did this because “the album is dead but the GIF loops forever.”
For the title track’s GIF, the duo stitched together images of a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., pointing a gun while looking at his smartphone. The visual is powerful and utterly heartbreaking and at the same time illustrates exactly how absurdly uncool and utterly disappointing “the future” can be.
“It’s the most cynical song on the album by a mile and by cynical I mean sad,” Evans says. The group wrote that the track is about “what the world feels like: relentless police violence, social media companies exploiting us emotionally, the ascendance of content over art, pleasure as a teleological end in itself, vaporized stimulants, using the word ‘drone’ to mean both a killing machine and a remote-controlled toy.”
The song’s deeply dark content and the important issues it raises contrasts sharply with the catchiness of the electro track that combines a funky Giorgio Moroder disco beat with vocals and melody recalling Blondie’s “Rapture.” (The album was recorded in L.A. and in Marfa Texas and co-produced by Bechtolt and third member Rob Kieswetter with help from Jacknife Lee and also from Justin Meldal-Johnsen on the title track).
When asked how they square such deep dark content with pop music, Evans says that, “There’s nothing more powerful than a pop song in terms of conveying a message succinctly and in a memorable way. If you can get a hook into someone’s brain, you have them forever. It doesn’t even matter if people don’t immediately understand what the song’s about.”
Articulating what it’s about, though, is clearly one of YACHT’s primary missions as they continue with innovative media strategies that include a website that tracks this album’s rollout; their 5 Every Day app, which is also produced as a weekly podcast for NPR affiliate KPCC, that highlights art and culture happenings throughout their beloved metropolis; and they are curating three hours of performance at the Getty Center as part of the museum’s “Friday Flights” series and for which they are building an installation.
In the middle of our phone interview, we are inexplicably cut off. When the three of us return to the call we laugh about missing the best part of the interview and curse L.A.’s spotty cell phone service. Once again, it seems, we wonder why the future’s not cooler.