Hopefully, if you’ve been frequenting JOVM enough, especially over the past three or four months or so, you may recall that I’ve written about the San Francisco-based quintet Yassou. Originally named Yassou Benedict, the quintet comprised of Lilie Bytheway Hoy (lead vocals, bass), James Jackson (guitar, drums, vocals), A.J. Krumholz (guitar, keys, vocals), Patrick Aguirre (drums) and Theo Quimby, the quintet formed in Upstate New York and quickly developed a reputation for crafting deeply emotional electro pop with highly unconventional song structures and rapidly shifting time signatures and tempos. After playing CMJ last year, the members of the San Francisco quintet devised an ambitious concept, meant to prove to themselves and other unsigned indie artists that they didn’t need the assistance of machinations of a major record label, an enormous budget or pricey high end studios and production teams to create inspired, meaningful material — no matter how large in scale, scope or theme. To that end, the members of Yassou imagined something unique — and in a world where everything is considered unique and really isn’t, that’s a rare thing. What the Bay Area-based quintet imagined was an EP for lack of a better description, that wouldn’t be physically or digitally released. Instead, it would be an immersive multimedia and conceptually-based collaborative project consisting of five videos produced, directed, shot, edited and released over the course of 8 months pairing the band’s music with work of three Bay Area-based producers, Gary Yost, Amy Harrity, and Peter McCollough. And although each director was working with the overarching themes brought up throughout the material, they brought their own interpretation and perspective to the visual presentation of the EP’s individual songs.
“Fall Again,” the first visual single of the EP is an ominous and slow-burning song consisting of layers of cascading and undulating synths, swirling electronics, angular and shimmering guitar chords, propulsive drum programming and live drumming and an insistent, throbbing bass line paired with Hoy’s hushed and plaintive coos. Structurally the song alternates between a buzzing murkiness and an atmospheric dreaminess and as a result it creates an unresolved and frustrated tension through the song — and in some way it evokes a relationship that’s either unrequited or uncertain. At it’s very core is an urgent, desperate longing for something (and someone) that seems distant and impossible.
The series’ protagonist is Yassou’s frontwoman Lilie Bytheway Hoy and the initial video of the series has Hoy going through a profoundly sensual and vaguely religious-like ritual in which she’s forcibly undressed and doused with oil and then rinsed off as though she were being baptized — and of course, cleansed. Shot with a creepy and surreal decadence, the video’s protagonist whether viewed in silhouette, blowing smoke circles from a lit cigarette or in the middle of the ritualistic bathing sequences looks as though she in the throes of orgasmic pleasure — while blurring the lines between pleasure, pain and discomfort in a sadomasochistic fashion. And it does so in a way that seems strangely elegant.
“To Win/Young Blood” is the second visual single of the EP and the single features a male vocals singing with aching vocals over a sparse arrangement of gently undulating synths, gently strummed double bass and what sounds to my ears like cello. Subtly nodding to old jazz standards, chamber pop, and ambient electronica, the song possesses a hushed and spectral beauty that reminds me of Goldfrapp — in particular, I think of Tales of Us. It’s a brief yet devastating moment of beauty that will stop you in your tracks. It’s quickly followed by the quickly shifting tumult of “Young Blood” which pairs buzzing and cascading synths, swirling electronics, skittering drum programming, followed by a lush and atmospheric section before a sudden dark and murky section which evokes sudden and breathtaking terror. Something feels dangerously off — and there’s nothing the song’s narrator could do to prevent it or stop it; in fact, the song’s third section suggests that the narrator may have seen something was rooted to the spot in dread and horror — or somehow felt compelled to do something evil.
The of the video possess a dream-like logic in which things are viewed in disjointed and anachronistic order . Initially, we see a menacing looking and hooded Hoy in darkness looking walking towards the viewer. Any sense of time is distorted as we see Hoy in brilliant daylight tying a red cowl around her neck and running for her life from someone or something by a lonely stretch of highway — in slow motion. This section seems to suggest that Hoy is running from some darker part of her psyche. As she’s running the cowl slowly billows over her head like a cloud of blood. And then suddenly, we’re back by a lonely beach parking lot at night with Hoy leaning on the trunk. From this portion of the video it’s apparent that something inexplicably horrifying has happened and we’ll soon discover some terrible secret the protagonist has held close to her chest. The second half of the video shows Hoy bathing in the tub. The room is candlelit and a man is standing behind her ominously overlooking. As Hoy dips her head under, she manages to fall in deeper into a pool where she views synchronous swimmers in a gorgeous routine. It’s initially placid and quickly shifts to Hoy standing on a balcony in a robe with her back to the viewer and quickly shifts to Hoy standing in a desert with storm clouds above. Suddenly Hoy seems small and is desperately trying to resist the storm around her. The second video ends with Hoy viewing a dead man’s corpse floating in a pool. Perhaps the synchronous swimmers represent the man’s desperate flailing as Hoy impassively watches?
“To Sink,” beings with a radio is tuned to various stations and then the song begins with a as a hauntingly gorgeous piano-based pop ballad pairing Hoy’s tender vocals expressing a complex and confusing array of release, resignation desperation and hope (within the turn of a few phrases). The first 2/3s of the song seem to evoke the sense of relief that there’s some conclusion, even if it is’s something terrible and unwanted. You know where you stand, no matter what. And hearing Hoy sing the line “These will be my final hours/Do what you want with me . . .” may arguably be the most devastatingly aching line throughout. The last third of the song suddenly shifts into a slickly produced contemporary electro pop ballad complete with shimmering guitar chords, trembling atmospheric electronics and harder hitting beats.
The accompanying video continues with the dream-like logic of its predecessor. We begin with a view of the Milky Way brightly illuminated in the desert, seemingly as a reminder of how small we are in the face of a gorgeous yet indifferent cosmos, followed by ocean waves lapping against a shoreline. Thanks to rapid editing cuts, the video evokes emotional tumult as we see what looks like what’s going on in the protagonist’s head as she’s eating at Spaceburger and sullenly smoking. At one point, she puts her hands to her face and closes her eyes with an expression that says both “what the fuck just happened to me? to us?” and “oh God, please, please, please, please, please forgive me.” As the video concludes, we see Hoy bathed in flashing lights and storm clouds surround her. Two dancers surround Hoy with sensual movements. It’s surreal and absolutely striking with shots that any photographer in their right mind would envy — in particular, the overhead of Hoy and the dancers dancing on the cliff with the ocean waves below and a grey sky above; Hoy’s head slightly down with the sun reflecting off the waves and a boat in the distance; and last closing with the ocean waves.
“The Woods”begins as a hazy and atmospheric song with buzzing synths and quickly morphs into a densely layered ballad propelled by an insistent rhythm, layers of slowly buzzing synths and shimmering synths chords and Hoy’s voice full of forceful emotion bursting from a placid surface as though she were holding something urgent until she could no longer do so. Sonically, the song manages to bear a resemblance to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush as it slowly burns to its conclusion.
The video begins with Hoy sitting on her car and smoking as the sun is setting. There’s something regretful and painful in the air, and Hoy looks as though she’s haunted by things she’d rather not remember. As she’s driving on what looks like the Pacific Coast Highway, the video flashes back to youthful and drunken revelry with friends and the romantic moments she has with a lover — presumably the dead body at the end of “Young Blood.” We then watch as our protagonist pulls over, opens the trunk and looks at a corpse one last time before we see her — from the back — commit suicide by leaping off a cliff. We never quite get the sense of what exactly happens but throughout the first four videos there’s this lingering sense of something irrevocable and unspeakable at the margins of the action that’s waiting to explode.
“In These Summer Nights” begins with the male vocals of “To Win” paired with gently cascading synths, gently strummed guitar that quickly turns ominous and fucked up as dense layers of jagged synths and electronics are paired with Hoy’s vocals and squeals of guitar before fading out.
Visually, the video takes place in and around water. Beginning with a rippling pool, we see Hoy as she jumped from the cliff to her death. Two mysterious figures by the pool hold Chinese-styled lamps. It’s quickly followed by a male figure, who seems to jump in to save our protagonist but everything is in slow motion. From his perspective, Hoy keeps moving further and further away as he dives deeper. And then we fade out.
Capturing a tumult of complex and often conflicting emotions the project is profoundly visceral and will force you to urgently feel something. After playing the material a number of times, I’ve found it creeping into my thoughts and leaving an insistent and lingering sense of dread and hope, horror and desperation, resignation and grief, of the monstrous things we’re all capable of and how quickly something can happen to irrevocably alter the course of our lives. And in some way, it’ll have you questioning how much of our lives are controllable through our free will or destined through either the weaknesses or strengths of our character — or through some larger, more powerful force. Visually, the video series reminds me quite a bit of Memento in the sense that the video is shot and edited in a way that leaves its interpretation to the viewer, while punching them in the gut and knocking them down a few times.