YĪN YĪN, the highly touted Dutch quartet from Maastricht, returns with a sonically expansive third album Mount Matsu. Recorded collectively in their own studio in the Belgian countryside, the album is a kaleidoscope of sounds and influences, occupying a no man’s land between Khruangbin and Kraftwerk, surf music and Southeast Asian psychedelia, Stax soul and mutant 80s disco, City pop and Japanese instrumental folk (sōkyoku).
After capturing widespread attention with their beloved debut album The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers (2019) and its acclaimed follow-up The Age Of Aquarius (2022), the Dutch quartet YĪN YĪN returns with their third LP Mount Matsu, and an expansive new sonic direction. While their earlier releases were a result of the chemistry between its founding members, drummer Kees Berkers and multi-instrumentalist Yves Lennertz (who recently left the band), the group’s lineup change has brought forward a more democratic creative mode. Members Remy Scheren (bass), Robbert Verwijlen (keys) and Erik Bandt (guitar) from the onset joined Berkers in the songwriting process, making the music on Mount Matsu much more than a sum of its kaleidoscopic influences.
“Art and ideas are personal and precious and the process of doing this truly together has been about more than just making an album. It was also a study of how collectives work,” notes Scheren, YĪN YĪN’s bass player since day one. “It’s sometimes hard seeing your own artistic ideas challenged as a member of a group, but we’re very proud of the result. When you truly co-create, literally every sound on a record has been tested through and through,” keyboardist Verwijlen adds. The process of creation, which took place in their studio in Belgium, felt like a long but satisfying ascent, hence the title Mount Matsu. The mountain itself is fictional but in Japanese matsu means pine tree and is (among other things) a symbol for rebirth and hope for the future.
Their mostly instrumental songs, still deeply rooted in the Southeast psychedelia Asian and funk from the 60́s and 70s, are occasionally embellished with hushed vocal harmonies, adding even more depth to their soulful expression. “We’ve decided to only sparsely use vocals, which leaves plenty of room for the listener’s imagination. You can really let your fantasy run wild as you listen and dance to it,” says drummer Berkers. And while off-kilter disco tunes with a trans-local character, neo-Thai psych funk jams and folk-styled soul ballads remain central to their sonic identity, the influx of fresh ideas results in an even more eclectic and effervescent sound image.
There are moments where the Dutch quartet flirts heavily with the dancefloor. Idiosyncratic nu-disco songs like ‘Takahashi Timing’, ‘Pia Dance’ and ‘Tokyo Disko’ conjure a welcoming hands-in-the-air vibe worthy of any digger’s vinyl crate. In the song ‘The Perseverance of Sano’, the worlds of Dick Dale and Wong shadow collide, creating a powerful neo-surf rock anthem worthy of a Tarantino soundtrack. The band’s essence remains unspoilt, though, particularly in ‘The Year of the Rabbit’, a signature moody YĪN YĪN tune that harkens back to their debut album, and the laid-back jam ‘Tam Tam’, a perfect backdrop to your morning coffee rituals. There’s also the trademark tune ‘White Storm’, boasting a spiralling 6/8 Afrobeat groove, floaty synth motifs and shimmering guitar licks.
Elsewhere, they rely on more dulcet tones. The erotic lullaby ‘Komori Uta’, with its shiver-inducing Birkin-esque female whispers, and ‘Shiatsu for Dinner’, with its tear-jerking guitar melodies and softly sung verses, tug at your heartstrings. Their knack for melodious psychedelia comes to the fore in the chaotic dreamlike bass-guitar dialogue of ‘The Year of The Tiger’, while closer ‘Ascending to Matsu's Height’ comes across as a heartfelt tribute to the traditional sounds of the guzheng (Chinese harp).
Mount Matsu marks a step back from the occasionally more Moroder-esque, rhythm-machine and synth-heavy production style of their second album towards a more organic, 70s live band aesthetic. This is encapsulated in the analogue warmth of their valve amp guitar sounds, vintage synth lines and acoustic percussion timbres, evoking the buzz of being in the rehearsal space with the band. “It was a real adventure trying to capture the new ‘YĪN YĪN’ sound,” notes guitarist Bandt, and that sense of discovery is keenly felt in the compelling music the band created.
Occupying a no man’s land between Khruangbin and Kraftwerk, Stax soul and mutant 80s disco, City pop and Japanese instrumental folk (sōkyoku), Mount Matsu sees YĪN YĪN at their most mature and adventurous stage yet. Infectious pentatonic melodicism calling for multiple rewinds!