A library of sound

I’d never seen Jona Bechtolt as YACHT before last night, but I was excited for my musical introduction. First impressions make me nervous so I spent the moments before the show at the bar, enjoying the view of an interesting mix of attendees. The social juices started flowing just as the beginning noise of YACHT’s set called me into the main room, where I found Bechtolt writhing on the floor, surrounded by a confused and awkwardly poised audience.

I admired his knit giraffe sweater while my apprehensions slowly gave in to the magic fingers of the bass and I warmed up to the possibility of a new musical friendship. The beat dropped and he sprang from a little oriental rug to his feet with daring moves reminiscent of both the robot and the zombie. He sang into his microphone and stared at his laptop while behind him, pixilated videos were projected onto the wall with graphics similar to those of Atari and early computer paint programs.

The videos fit the music very well and added an impressive element to an already interesting display of manic energy. On the rug sat Jona’s laptop, microphone, mixer, magic triangle with accompanying magic wand, and a single maraca that, when used sparingly, added a surprisingly beneficial percussive layer, audible even over the massive speakers of Holocene. He sat on his knees pushing buttons and clicking windows and I wondered if he knew how much of his underwear was visible. Afterwards, I could only describe his set to the fashionably late as “really flippin’ good” and 24 hours later, that’s still all I got.

I will say that Jona’s a Sagittarius, likes Tofutti Cuties and is associated with a million bands in some way or other, including the Blow, Devendra Banhart, the Badger King, Bobby Birdman, Little Wings, Thanksgiving, the Microphones/ Mount Eerie, the Watery Graves, the Graves, Wolf Colonel and more. He lives here in Portland, so go see his next show.

Mia Doi Todd sings pretty songs about love, death and other important subjects while accompanying herself simplistically on an acoustic guitar. You might think such an act would be out of place after a noisy, bumping laptop set, and you’d be partly right, but then as you started listening to her unusually beautiful voice, you’d realize it didn’t matter who played before or after.

Todd’s lyrics were like waves sweeping me out to sea and in my opinion, are her finest musical attribute. The audience mostly sat and listened attentively, but a noisy few wandered through the hallways. Mia asked one of the more vocal gentlemen to continue his conversation in the bar, but I don’t think he could hear her over his own voice. She was nice about it so I gave her a gold star for not whining. I couldn’t help hearing a touch of Joni Mitchell and Vashti Bunyan, but in the best possible way (I love them both for different reasons), while she sang about a place where babies get their names and angels get their wings.

Mia has been around awhile and has released five albums, the newest, Manzanita, was released in February on Plug Research Records, a new label for her after a short spell on Sony/Columbia. She’s collaborated with the likes of Beachwood Sparks, Prefuse 73, Saul Williams, Dntel and Folk Implosion, to name but a few. Her first three albums are solo acoustic, but the last two feature a wide range of instrumentation. I’m not sure what her sign is.

The Books consist mainly of Nick Zammuto on vocals and acoustic guitar, and Paul de Jong on cello. Last night they were accompanied by Nick’s brother Mickey on bass, and the amazing Anne Doerner on violin, banjo, guitar, keys and vocals. Nick had control of the DVD remote, while Paul and he shared the responsibility of frequently hitting the buttons on the sampler. If you haven’t heard the Books before, this description probably won’t help you grasp what it is they do or whom they should be compared to. After all, who doesn’t have a cellist and a sampler?

Their most amazing feat is using mostly acoustic instruments to recreate live what sounds so electronic recorded. Either way you experience their music, a certain inability to brand them exists, and for that I respect them. The Books love language and to them words seem to always have multiple meanings. The sampled voices of strange conversations often prove this, as do their song titles and lyrics. On “A Little Longing Goes Away,” off their new record Lost and Safe, Nick’s voice softly sings, “Yes and no are just distinguished by distinction, so we chose the in-between.”

The videos behind them further enforced this ambiguity by scrambling the word “meditation” into dozens of strange statements, and then later by projecting a song’s lyrics, one syllable at a time in perfect sync with Nick’s voice. They also had some beautiful footage of ducks’ feet underwater and eerie Japanese public school traditions. In this sense, their videos fit in perfectly because of their randomness.

I highly recommend viewing www.thebooksmusic.com and I humbly suggest their first album, Thought for Food. Seeing them was amazing and it should be fun while listening to imagine how they perform the tracks live. Please also visit YAHCT at www.teamyacht.com/info/ and Mia at http://www.miadoitodd.com/.