Castle in the Air
With the amount of ink spilled in these pages on folky singer-songwriters, country crooners, and various sub-sub-genre’d rock bands, it’s damn refreshing when we allow our ears to be teased by cool music that wasn’t built off your standard-issue six-stringed instrument. Thankfully, amid all the generally cis, white guy taste-catering we inadvertently do, we sometimes stumble across new sounds that are incredibly intriguing, if a bit “alien” to our often narrowly focused coverage.
The latest bracing slap in our pale, bearded faces comes in the form of the ultra-sexy tech-dub machinations of Yokyo. The name is the home planet of extraterrestrials Maj. Babe (vocalist Hannah Witkowski) and Capt. Neo (producer Samuel Culp), who have crash landed in sleepy Cowtown from outer space and have brought along with them some tasty celestial grooves to make our eardrums move.
The electro duo’s new EP is a combination of two recently released singles, “Fixture” and “Wild Night,” plus the brand-new track “Wake Up.” Castle in the Air continues Culp’s and Witkowski’s evolution from fluid dream pop to thundering hard-hop.
The first half of “Fixture” is carried by a feature from veteran Fort Worth rapper 88 Killa, whose infectious rhymes sit comfortably over Culp’s progressively jittery, buzzsaw EDM stylings before the track gives way to Witkowski’s heavily distorted, sensual cooing throughout the second verse, leading into a chorus that intertwines the two in a seductive Beauty vs. the Beast back-and-forth.
Musically, “Wild Night” is the sort of pumping dance track that might blast out of the speakers in that techno vampire club at the beginning of Blade that we all know and love — you know, the one with the blood showering out of the fire sprinklers? Yet the throbbing beat and glistening synths are contrasted by the feature from alternative rapper Adrian Peace. His mellow flow tastefully rolls off the sting and slam of Culp’s pulsing beat like a cranberry back chasing a shot of Everclear. Simultaneously sweet and headspinning.
Moving at a different, slower speed than the EP’s other two cuts, “Wake Up” boasts what Culp referred to as “hands down one of my favorite performances” by Witkowski. With her frolicking, auto-tune-twisted lilt sliding over his astral chords, it’s easy to see why. When she sings, “Feeling like the whole world stood still,” the listener also feels like it just might have. Her arresting, sultry delivery is a warm blanket haven among the cool click and rattle of Culp’s production.
The colorful topping to Yokyo’s Castle in the Air might be the mesmerizing artwork. Part sci-fi futurism, part high-fantasy novel cover, Lee on Lean’s floating castle continues the theme that has fronted each of the duo’s releases this year. So far, there have been seven variations of the image of Culp and Witkowski’s embrace that has provided the base of the motif. Stained-glass, robots, AI, and street art variants have all been applied, with Castle having the most cleverly innocuous treatment of the subject to date, barely a suggestion of it in the work’s silhouette.
The only downside to the EP is that it is disappointingly short. After their early releases showed a duo trying to figure out exactly what their musical mark might be, this year’s body of work is suggesting that they just might have — pardon the pun — “landed” on something, and Castle in the Air serves as its high-buttressed acropolis. Yokyo may be from out of this world, but we’re grateful they’re here now.