by Jay Mattson
For the Brooklyn-based band Yeasayer, success is relative. While their 2007 debut album, All Hour Cymbals, garnered critical acclaim from underground-oriented web sites, a few select periodicals and the neo-psychedelic-loving blogosphere, the album failed to receive mainstream success. This fact didn’t stop the album from appearing a number of Top 100 lists for the year, as its introspective, complex and fleshed-out mood connected to its listeners on a variety of levels. I myself found All Hour Cymbals to be one of the most enjoyable albums from the past decade. A little over two years later, Yeasayer has “returned” to the indie gammut with their second full-length album, Odd Blood.
While the band’s original sound was more akin to late late 60s to late 70s psychedelia, Odd Blood feels more akin to late 80s nu-wave and electro-pop, which isn’t a bad thing. The band never totally gives themselves over to glam (as referring to the late ’80s might imply), but they come close. This album feels like a striking mixture of acid rock and electro-dance. One one hand, the boys have kept what made All Hour Cymbals so endearing; namely multi-layered instrumentation and Chris Keating’s warbling vocals. On the far-reaching other hand, they have experimented with more upbeat and groove-based rhythms. While this might sound like a radical change to Yeasayer fans of old, the new direction actually compliments the band’s style while still marking a growth for their sound in general.
“The Children” acts as the album opener and can be deceiving, as it can lead the listener to believe that this new album is merely an extension from the first record as it sparingly moves forward, an auto-tuned Keating bleating into the microphone as it sounds like electronic sludge slowly seeping down a hill. Of course, any and all of these aforementioned thoughts are immediately stifled as the second track emerges. “Ambling Alp” was released as a single in October of last year to frenzied fans and bloggers who had been waiting to hear what the “new Yeasayer” sounded like. The single was an excellent indicator of Odd Blood‘s tempo, as it sets a demeanor of energy that rarely recedes as the album moves forward. “Alp” showcases the immense strides this band has made over the past two years; soaring instrumentals, layered electronic manipulation (that never feels overdone) and lyrics that just push through the jumble of sounds.
Keating evokes Plant-esque vocals on “I Remember”, sauntering towards ethereal radiance. Lines like “You’re stuck in my mind / All the time” compliment the haziness that accompanies minimal electronic manipulation in the background. Arguably one of the most profound and enjoyable songs on Odd Blood is “ONE”, a dance jam that has an overarching theme of converging ideas between love and lost love. Lyrics aside, boisterous electro-drums and marimbas (I think?) almost distract from the downtrodden tone of Keating’s words. Beyond “The Children”, “Love Me Girl” is most reminiscent of All Hour Cymbals as it employs the choir-esque backing evident throughout the first album. After a solid two-minute build-up, Keating finally comes to the forefront with a minimalistic, lyrics-upon-bouncing-beats rendition. “Rome” marks the farthest point from Yeasayer’s original moods and trademark psychedelic production, opting instead for clean, sharp beats and a catchy hook that involves everyone’s favorite ancient Italian city. What’s interesting is that while the song itself leaps forward significantly, Keating’s vocal inflections and movements feel more suited to the band’s older work.
Beginning toward the end, “Strange Reunions” reverts back to grimier, more subtle tones. “Mondegreen” is one of my personal favorites, an ever-present horn section backing Keating works well with a chorus line of clappers and an oddly appropriate electric guitar thrown in about a minute and a half in to create an absolutely ecstatic dance track. \Odd Blood closes with “Grizelda”, closer to a fable or fairy tale than a love story (which seems to be a recurring theme over the entire ten tracks.) Sparse pianos lead the song through existential heights that grow and grow to remind the audience that this is Yeasayer and this is their sound.
Being presented with the chance to hear Odd Blood early was exciting. I received the album almost a month ago, but only in the past two weeks have I experienced some of my musically-inclined friends ask me “Do you know the band Yeasayer?” It’s hard to hold back the indie-nerd inside me and not rant about their first album, Daytrotter session, inclusion on last year’s incredible Dark Was The Night compilation and so on. Other online outlets have expressed opinions that with Odd Blood, Yeasayer is set to be 2010’s breakout indie hit, much like the success of Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors in 2009. It will be interesting to watch Yeasayer’s climb to fame. With an album as gorgeous and accessible as this, it is hard to discount these premonitions. If the band receives as much TV airtime and blog-related fanfare as those three aforementioned bands, there is a possibility they will get bigger than any of them.