Published Dec 08, 2020Yacht rock is like if disco and folk had a super chill baby. Not so much to be danced to as it is a soundtrack to sweet, calm thoughts by the pool, yacht rock inspires a rhythmic sway of the hips and the whisper of a smile. Edmonton duo Yes Nice's latest, Eternal Flame, is a throwback to this genre borne of the soul, jazz, and disco of the '70s, but with a modern twist. Infusing a bit of existential angst into their lyrics, Eternal Flame reignites a classic genre that manages to contextualize it steadily in the present.
Yes Nice members Scott McKellar and Nathaniel Wong have been writing and recording together since 1998 and Eternal Flame is their third album. Their previous albums have a curious and unique sound, but what makes Eternal Flame distinct for mainstream audiences is its element of nostalgia – it conjures up a hazy image in your mind even if you weren't around for the '70s.
The album is stunningly written and produced, with each track an earworm, liable to get you nodding your head or swaying to the beat even if you can't make out the lyrics precisely. "Piggy Piggy Pig," which rolls sleepily with its twanging guitar and insistent keyboard, and the bass-heavy "Glistening Pigs," with lyrics that harken back to the mind-bending wordplay of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." Meanwhile, second track "Few Words to Say" would fit comfortably in the opening credits of a film like Shampoo. This is all to say, Eternal Flame is without reproach insofar as it honours its yacht rock inspirations, and insofar as McKellar and Wong's skills are concerned.
Where it forges its own path, however, is the febrile ground on which the lyrics stand. While the music has a distinct ancestor, the lyrics themselves waver from past to present, existing in a liminal space. An overall feeling of confusion — with regard to place, relationships, self — in face of an aimlessness undergirds the words that Wong sings beautifully. This existential angst is most palpable on "Hollywood Hills," with its lyrics speaking of paranoia, working without purpose ("I bring home the paycheque / trying to remember your face"), and faded love. The feeling threaded through the album can best be described as knowing for sure that you're about to lose something (a person, a memory, a feeling), but doing everything you can to hold on to it — a futile labour.
The music, with its funky bass, beautiful blooming electric guitar, and confident horn, is, paradoxically, a perfect companion to the introspective, sometimes sad lyrics. A more meandering, strings-heavy rhythm would have turned every track into a ballad, but Eternal Flame has an attitude. "Follow a Star" best embodies this idea — beginning like Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," it takes on a poppy urgency with its drums and keys, but the lyrics speak of a "reflection in the gutter," reining the track back into the shadows, away from the love song its beginning portended, taking it all back to the self, to existential dread.
All of these songs will get stuck in your head, as they should. Eternal Flame is a gem that reinvigorates its genre without emulating the past, adding something to the conversation and thereby making it better. Give it a listen, you won't be disappointed. (Victory Pool)