Sunday, 7 February 2010

REVIEW: Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Apologies for the gap in posts...filthy dirty cold caught up with me this week, so liquids, chicken soup & bed rest etc etc were called for. Good to kick back off with this one, however....

Brooklyn's Yeasayer have been building to the release of new album Odd Blood for many months now, with a series of free downloads, updates, and nudity-heavy video washing out across the indie shores for all to scavenge. The band even played New York’s Guggenheim museum, furthering their artistic leanings and perhaps catching some chin-stroking types up in their promotions at the same time. Now that it has finally arrived, how does it live up to expectations laid out by their 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals?

The Children kicks off Odd Blood  with a disconcertingly robotic rhythm, featuring a healthy dose of Battles and sounding some distance from the more organic psych-folk that characterized that first album. This is the first of many differences to come. Ambling Alp  provides some semblance of comfort, if only because it’s familiar after being made a free download late last year. It’s also a cracking uptempo tune, with a laundry list of bizarre effects shoehorned in and lyrical hooks to die for. If Animal Collective had a rambunctious younger brother, this would be what he’d get up to when everyone looks the other way. Again, a far cry from the more mature stylings of the band’s debut outing.

Suitably unsettled by the jarring directional shift taken after just two tracks, anyone seeking solace in next track Madder Red will find none. It burns more slowly than the opening tracks, yet the strong tendency towards synths and electro-based rhythms is, if anything, pulled even further front and centre. The track actually harks back to 80’s acts like New Order or Depeche Mode and could easily have been created by contemporary purveyors of that style Cut Copy. It’s a jolt once more and not an entirely welcome one to these ears, as it feels just slightly unnatural for the band. Perhaps this is born from the familiarity of All Hour Cymbals…..or perhaps it’s just a dud. I Remember does continue a more downbeat path but has a greater injection of its own personality, as well as some gorgeous vocal work from Chris Keating, so it neatly sidesteps criticism as a result.

Buy it at Insound!

As if moping simply doesn’t suit them, Yeasayer boot the album up a gear again with the recently released - and again freely downloadable (nice, gents) - ONE. Not quite as unrestrained as Ambling Alp but no less adorable for it, the song bounds along happily on semi-tropical beats and yet more effects cribbed from two decades prior. It works here, however, melding everything together for a tune that should be well used this coming summer, as far away as it may currently seem. 


Love Me Girl follows with a mixture of that same quirky verve and a rapid undercurrent that almost approaches a trance style beat, at least until the vocals break the rhythm to add something more tangibly Yeasayer. This is another exploration of sound that seems to fear no boundaries and, somehow, pulls off a pretty memorable, coherent listening experience. Rome achieves this also, with what sounds like an Eastern kazoo punctuating its unrelenting indie jaunt and confident lyrics.

Strange Reunions is a meditative passage that feels more like a bridge between the next uptempo bound of Mondegreen than a song in and of itself. It serves its purpose without being all that necessary, as the latter tune would sit perfectly well alongside Rome on its own. With a swinging horn section and a bass line that sounds like it’s boring a hole to the centre of the planet, the song is propelled along powerfully until it all unravels, in a good way, towards the end in a tangle of loops, reverb, and what may well be a car alarm, given the off the wall tendencies of this bizarre record.

Grizelda, the closing track, eases up once more as it rides in on long held notes and that more familiar vocal melody, free of obvious effects or samples. In many ways this feels like the sunset of the album, giving the listener one last glimpse of the Yeasayer of old, before completely enveloping themselves in the weirdly wonderful new electronica world they now inhabit. This certainly leaves them wide open to explore any facets of sound they wish on future material, as the unexpected will surely now be just what listeners will anticipate.

Odd Blood is more than just a title, it describes just what pumps around the veins of this eccentric, eclectic album. Anyone expecting All Hour Cymbals mk II will be most sorely mistaken, as I was initially, yet this record holds a charm all of its own after repeat listens.  The standout cuts like ONE, Ambling Alp, and Rome do a good job of anchoring the new direction - at least in the small amount it can be restrained - and allow the weirder adventures in sound some time to digest for the listener. There are some bum notes, as one might expect, and it would be encouraging to hear no more of the tired 80’s electro-pop influences on slower tracks, but these are certainly outweighed by the positives once taken as a whole. Not an especially cohesive whole, perhaps, but one with many enjoyable peaks.

Against the backdrop of a scene currently awash with synthetic electronic influences, Yeasayer will almost certainly gather a whole new type of audience with this album. If they can hold the attention and (hopefully) open minds of their existing fans at the same time then they’ll be destined for much greater acclaim on the back of Odd Blood. And, as if to emphasise this point,  that’s something I certainly didn’t expect to be writing upon the first spin of this record. Here’s to sonic peculiarity. 

No comments: