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Yello: Toy *

Album Notes

Most North Americans seem to believe Yello's career began and ended with "Oh Yeah," the 1985 tune from their album Stella that became unavoidable in movies and television for years afterward. But the truth is, Yello have been a presence in international pop music since 1980, and with their 13th album, 2016's Toy, they've reminded us that they're still making smart, well-crafted, and politely subversive electronic pop more than three decades after their biggest hit. Stylistically, Toy doesn't sound radically different than the work Yello did in the '80s and '90s, though their touch has grown a bit lighter with time. These tunes are pop that exists somewhere between crisp EDM-influenced rhythms and witty ambient music. Boris Blank (who handles the group's music and production) moves back and forth from upbeat numbers with tuneful hooks and dance-friendly percussive effects to low-key soundscapes that, despite their playful edge, communicate a mood far more than a melody. Vocalist and lyricist Dieter Meier was 71 when Toy was released, but his gruff, smoky instrument fits the clean, polished surfaces of this music remarkably well, like Leonard Cohen's eccentric cousin from Switzerland. Toy wisely front-loads the catchier numbers, especially "Limbo," "Cold Flame" (featuring guest vocals from Malia), and "30,000 Days," while the set closes with more abstract and free-flowing tracks such as "Magma" and "Toy Square." Toy doesn't sound especially innovative, but it certainly demonstrates that Yello haven't been resting on their laurels, and at its best, the album applies new thinking in electronic pop with the melodic and production approaches that have always been part of Yello's music, for a set that's fresh but unmistakably their work. ~ Mark Deming


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