Under Review: Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Experimental music has sure come a long way.  Even within the past few years, bands have been struggling to settle on what level of weirdness they can embrace without being so ‘out there’ that their music is rendered ignorable.  Yeasayer’s 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals, was an interesting if not completely thought-out introduction to the band.  Since then, though, they’ve tightened up their sound and incorporated more straightforward pop structures to create Odd Blood, a record that might not be as avant as its predecessor, but is infinitely more exciting.  Instead of shambling, quasi-tribal atmospheres, Odd Blood’s abundance of bona-fide songs makes it an immediate, engaging and downright fun record (the kind with which Yeasayer should have led their career).  All that can be extracted from the album is guarded, though, by opener “The Children,” a messy track with eerie distorted vocals that recalls Animal Collective’s head-scratcher “#1.”  While AC saved that track for Strawberry Jam’s second half, Yeasayer puts it right up front, marking the first and last unfriendly aspect of the album.  As “The Children” gurgles to a close, in comes “Ambling Alp,” an infectious pep talk of a song that contains uplifting messages for everyone, boxer or otherwise.  Trading off lead vocals throughout the album are keyboardist Chris Keating and guitarist Anand Wilder (joined occasionally by bassist Ira Wolf Tuton).  Wilder’s first appearance is on “Madder Red,” a soulful interplay between Wilder’s mellow baritone and Keating’s falsetto coos.  The dynamics between their voices and the kinds of songs they each lead gives Odd Blood both the diversity and continuity that All Hour Cymbals lacked.

What truly stands out on Odd Blood are the sounds that Yeasayer makes.  In “O.N.E.,” a playful synth loop brings to mind some lost new wave hit, and “Rome” combines a nagging, jittery beat with more falsetto shouts to create a song reminiscent of legendary bluesman Taj Mahal’s jazz-funk exercise, “Squat That Rabbit.”  Odd Blood remains strong throughout its rather brief running time, with the house-influenced “Love Me Girl” and the jumpy “Mondegreen” keeping the second side a-swinging.  With only ten songs to it, Odd Blood still has a few hold-ups, like the “Mellow Yellow”-interpolating “Strange Reunions” and closer “Grizelda,” which serves as an equally inauspicious bookend to the aforementioned “The Children.”  Still, it’s unwise to damn Odd Blood’s superb middle section just to spite a few throwaways.  The leaps that Yeasayer has made show how a band can effectively streamline their music (and themselves) without giving up too much in the area of weirdness.  They may not be as elusive as they were in their earlier days, but Yeasayer are wiser, odder and more creative than ever.

~ by E. on February 8, 2010.

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