The term was coined in jest, applied retrospectively and covers a period and style of music which spent decades being mocked or loathed, or both. But I say it’s times to appropriate and broaden the term yacht rock to modern times and modern music. And to refuse from the start to be ashamed of its associations.
Yacht rock? Smooth pop and soft rock of the 1970s with the perfume of time spent in the writing room getting things right and money spent in the studios to get things perfect. Often moving along on a light groove that you wouldn’t call dance but which was always lighter on its feet than any beefy rock. Sung as often as not in higher voices and enriched by layers of other voices or sounds that took the edge of danger but also coated things with a classy sheen.
Ok, it wasn’t always deeply affecting: something about its smoothness often undercutting even its most emotional efforts. It could fall between the cracks of pop, rock, dance just as easily as it could encompass them all. And over an extended period listening to it can feel like your diet has moved from chewable dishes to smoothies. But still, it works well when it works well.
The fifth album from Dappled Cities – count the bars in that album title if you don’t believe me – makes a plausible case not only for modern yacht rock and the reason why yacht rock then and now can be pleasure without recourse to a “guilty” prefix, but also where the hesitations can arise.
The grooves don’t catch your feet quite as much as, say, Rufus, but tapping of those feet starts early, feels like a nudgingly propulsive force during Coraline and I Know Your History, and usually makes you wonder if it’s time to drive somewhere, anywhere, just to feel the road beneath your wheels. If in doubt, put Everything Ever and its soul-meet-krautrock keyboards on, close your eyes, and I reckon you’ll feel a breeze.
The melodies may not hold your gaze quite as much as, say, Augie March, a comparison driven, to be fair, in part by how Dave Rennick’s voice is often very similar to Augie’s Glenn Richard. But In Light Of No One would not have been out of place in the hands of the Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald-era),Weightless has an appropriately weightless tone that rises on a turn to falsetto which echoes no one more than Little River Band, and there’s a Hall & Oates hook in the smooth funkiness of That Sound.
So, yes, IIIII has easy appeal and a no-sharps policy in its sound (less so in its lyrics), which makes it enjoyably digestible. But the flaw in this approach across the whole album is that, as mentioned above with original yacht rock, you end up missing something that might require a bit of work on your part.
Bad Feeling, which appears late in the album, is one track which suffers from its sequencing in that by the time you get to it you have been softened up by softness and the attractive song slides by with little trace. It deserves a bit more than that.
Still, yacht rock was never perfect, even as it aimed for sonic and structural perfection, and if you’re going to make smooth pop like IIIII that may be an affordable price to pay.