“We wanted to find a way to interrogate technology more deeply,” explains Claire L. Evans, one-third of the pop group YACHT. “From the ground up,” adds her partner and YACHT founder Jona Bechtolt. The group—rounded out by longtime collaborator Rob Kieswetter—would know: their seventeen-year career has been marked by a series of conceptual stunts, experiments, and attempts to use technology “sideways.” Even the band’s name speaks to this: YACHT is an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology.
Chain Tripping is their seventh album and third with DFA Records. Recorded between the band’s home in Los Angeles and Marfa, Texas, the ten-song collection marks a shift in the group’s relationship with technology. Rather than trying to comment on existing platforms from within their own filter bubble, the band stripped their process down and rebuilt it using a technology entirely new to them—Artificial Intelligence, and more specifically, machine learning.
In order to compose Chain Tripping, YACHT invented their own AI songwriting process, a journey of nearly three years. They first tried to discover any existing YACHT formulas by collaborating with engineers and creative technologists to explore their own back catalogue of 82 songs using machine learning tools. Eventually they created their own working method, painstakingly stitching meaningful fragments of plausible nonsense together from extensive, seemingly endless fields of machine-generated music and lyrics, themselves emerging from custom models created with the help of generous experts in neural networks, deep learning, and AI.
The band’s characteristically frenetic pop sound is toned down on songs like “(Downtown) Dancing,” a scotch-tape disco track that marries an anxious, funky bass groove with the lo-fi sound of the NSynth, a neural synthesizer that uses a machine learning process called latent space interpolation to imagine new sounds in between traditional instrumentation. The NSynth appears all over Chain Tripping, notably on the jewel-like “Blue on Blue,” a euphoric love song wound with surprisingly omnidirectional melodies. The generative composition process “broke us out of a mold of concise, formal, four-bar patterns and let us accept longer, meandering riffs,” explains Kieswetter; like most of Chain Tripping’s standout tracks, the song contains lyrical fragments that coalesce, collapse, and reform with fluid ease. The process also surfaced surreal idioms, like “Loud Light’s” anthemic “I’m so in love / I can feel it in my car,” or the lovely phrase “palm of your eye,” which pins the lilting chorus of the driving “SCATTERHEAD” into place, a song that splits the difference between postmodern rock and no-wave dance music with wiggly ease.
“We saw this album as an opportunity to teach the machine our values, our history, our community, and our influences,“ adds Evans. “This record is a product of a technological moment that is rapidly evolving. It taught us everything we wanted to know about ourselves: how we work, what moves us, and which ambiguities are worth leaning into. We didn’t set out to produce algorithmically-generated music that could ‘pass’ as human. We set out to make something meaningful. Something entirely our own.”