Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Secretly Canadian
Words: James Passarelli

If you want to make a list of elements you’ll find in a Yeasayer album, grab a pen and paper, and make sure your afternoon is free.  Their 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals shook up the alternative music world, boasting a genre-busting fusion of electronica, tribal, pop, jazz, and pure rock hooks within the confines of a Brooklyn scene that saw a dozen cookie cutter indie bands pop up every week.  The album implied the band’s unwillingness to lock themselves down.  Their collective writing style displayed an astoundingly cohesive approach to being all over the place, and the result was one of the best albums of the year.

Yeasayer is well aware of the inevitable price of setting the bar so high.  “People could turn on us at any moment,” guitarist Anand Wilder joked to The New York Times.  It’s a funny way to look at it, but it’s a real fear that’s not unlikely for a group of musicians preparing to release their second album.  The great thing about these guys’ sophomore effort is possibly guessed this. A semi-concept album, Odd Blood’s first two tracks blend together to form a cohesive two-part song, and although that’s the only instance of seamless transition, the rest of the album certainly follows a theme.  With a flurry of keyboards and synths, falsetto chants, epic percussion, and spacey sound effects Yeasayer create a graspable fantastical environment.  Zips and zings that flood the background of Odd Blood could be inhabitants of a technological jungle on a far away planet.  Yeasayer’s new world is dizzying, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t quite yet decided whether I mean that in a good or bad way.

Probably the most drastic change, though not the most noticeable, is lyrical.  Seasonal hymnals and bold commentaries on the future have been replaced by common inspirational advice and reoccurring themes of love.  “Stick up for yourself son, never mind what anybody else done” sings Chris Keating on the album’s first single “Ambling Alp.”  “Love Me Girl” is sung by a seemingly schizophrenic lover, who begins with a paranoid question, “What is she covering up? What is she lying about?” before later singing, “Don’t’ give up on me, and I won’t give up on you” and even later, “Squeeze me ‘til I can’t breathe, and let’s just lie here.”  Yeasayer brings  neat order to words and music that in the wrong hands might sound like a chaotic artistic mess.

It’s not so much the stylistic elements of the band’s first album that they’ve abandoned, but the method.  You can find all of the aforementioned bells and whistles on All Hour Cymbals, but on Odd Blood there’s a tighter focus and more meticulous production.  And it works well on some tracks.  “Rome” is a frantic, synth-driven, dance track with a sound that I can only assume was made by someone boxing sheet metal, in which singer Keating claims, “Rome is gonna be mine.  It’s just a matter of time.”  The album’s standout track is definitely “ONE”, a love song powered by a strong bass line and keyboard hooks that will give a pulse to the lifeless.  “Hold me like you used to.  Control me like you used to,” pleads Wilder.  An artificial-sounding brass sample on “Mondegreen” fits right in with the mix.

The courageous shift did not come without consequences though.  All Hour Cymbals had a stripped down tribal atmosphere that would be impossible to reproduce with Odd Blood’s pristine production.  It’s not like it was unplugged or anything – far from it – but its strength lay in its tribal percussion, natural chants, and impeccable guitar riffs.  On Odd Blood, the percussion and chants sound less natural, almost watered down, and the guitar is sparse and often hidden in synthetic thickets.  Artificiality is not limited to “Mondegreen”: it permeates the entire album, and yet Yeasayer somehow manages to pull it off.  Still, after the syrupy sweet hooks and incessant dance beats, you can’t help but notice a slightly unpleasant aftertaste and yearn for Yeasayer’s organic pieces of the past.

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