Yello are absurd. For 40 years, they have been making music that sounds like nothing else on the pop charts, and yet yields hit singles and pop cultural penetration (how many times have you heard “Oh Yeah” in your life? Try to count, and you’ll undoubtedly come up short). Their formula is simple, because there are only two of them: Boris Blank assembles intricate collages of sampled instruments, rhythms, and sounds, and Dieter Meier declaims giddily nonsensical lyrics on top in a stentorian voice that sounds more like a Eurotrash industrialist playboy in a broad ’80s comedy than a pop singer. Perhaps that’s because he is, in real life, a Eurotrash industrialist who owns a coffee plantation, a vineyard, and a cattle ranch; designs watches, silk scarves and sports cars; used to be a professional gambler; and more. At 75, Meier looks like he was born wearing a blazer and ascot, and his vocals rumble into the microphone like he’s leaning over to tell you something darkly witty about a fellow guest at some insanely opulent dinner party to which you’ve somehow wrangled an invitation.
Point is their 14th album, and arrives 40 years after their debut, 1980’s Solid Pleasure (which, like its successor Claro Que Si, originally came out on the Residents‘ Ralph Records label). From the opening sampled vocals, burbling synth, and pinballing percussion of “Waba Duba,” it’s immediately recognizable as their handiwork. Herky-jerky and bizarre, it’s a showcase for Meier’s voice, as he grumbles nonsense into your ear, sounding like he recorded each word separately. Behind him, Blank musters an array of organs, synths, fake DJ scratching noises, and beats that snap, thunder and boom. It’s an ideal album opener, in that it tells you instantly and in no uncertain terms that you are in Yello‘s world now.
Some of their songs seem to have traditional verses and choruses, but when you actually focus on the words, they’re as nonsensical as New Order‘s; they seem to melt away upon contact with your brain. It’s much better to consider Yello music as a purely aesthetic experience, as alien and opaque in its way as Autechre‘s. “Way Down” is a morose ballad that sounds like KMFDM circa Money, but it’s followed by “Out of Sight,” another bouncing, uptempo piece that sounds like an ill-conceived early ’00s Leonard Cohen dance remix. It has the benefit of a second, female voice being chopped up into digital phonemes, plus a synth break that sounds like a saxophone being played from the bottom of a manhole.
The farther into Point one gets, the greater one’s appreciation for Boris Blank as a constructor of tracks. Some of these pieces could have been released as 12″ singles on Kompakt; others verge on industrial. “Big Boy’s Blues” features what might even be a guitar, but one of Blank’s favorite tricks is to take a sound and warp it into noise as it ends, like the computer’s eating it, and he does it repeatedly here. Only on “Rush for Joe,” the album’s next-to-last track, are instruments (congas, flute, and trumpet) permitted to sound like themselves; combined with the usual synths and weird, bouncy sounds, the result is a faux-exotic jungle instrumental that JG Thirlwell might have come up with to accompany a jungle chase in an episode of Venture Bros.
By remaining imperturbably themselves, and possessing the (financial) freedom to do exactly as they like, Yello have built up a body of work that’s utterly unique in pop. Point is a Yello album; no more, no less. What more could anyone ask for?