When we posted our most anticipated albums of 2010, there was a reason we decided to illustrate it with a Yeasayer thumbnail: It’s clear the playful psychedelic Brooklyn group’s second full-length Odd Blood, the followup to 2007 breakthrough All Hour Cymbals, could very well be a defining moment, a collection that builds on the buzz of “Sunrise,” “2080,” etc., and catapults the guys into someplace bigger. (For instance, think of the expansions made by Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, and Grizzly Bear in the past couple years). The fist-pumping disco-fueled first single “Ambling Alp” seemed to confirm these thoughts. But we upped that thumb before we’d heard all 10 tracks.
In some ways we overstate the drama. For those who’ve been paying attention, on top of the studio “Ambling Alp,” you’ve already heard live versions of almost half the collection (“ONE,” “Madder Red,” “I Remember,” and again with the “Ambling Alp”) more than once. That, and when they came through for a Progress Report we learned that they’d stocked their rented Woodstock, NY home studio with a Hammond organ, “drawers full of pedals,” gamelans, and koto drums, etc. Anand Wilder told Jessica:
We’re very computer-based. We’re not purists in any way. If a Protools plug-in can achieve the same kind of sound as an analog effect, then we’ll use it … People say Yeasayer is much better live and has more energy. But for us it’s about getting a recording we’re happy with and then replicating that in a live setting, but making the two things very distinct.
Sitting down and taking in “The Children” through “Grizelda” wasn’t a complete surprise, though it also wasn’t entirely what we were expecting. “The Children” is an interesting intro — it’s weirdly plodding with distorted sci-fi vocals, clanging percussion, and eventually smooth synthesizers and submerged horn sounds. The track initially feels like a “whatever” toss off, but on repeat listens it has a muddy slow-mo catchiness and opens Odd Blood with some tension building before the revved-up release of the early standout “Ambling Alp.” You’ve heard “Ambling” and know it’s exhortations for you to stick up for yourself, son, etc.
Those infectious character-building electro-blipped polyrhythms are followed by the (again triumphant) mid-tempo “Madder Red,” which weaves fine rocker guitars into pretty shadowed harmonies (that somehow remind us of Mr. Mister), but it’s the next track, “I Remember,” should soon become a staple at proms (and weddings) everywhere. “I Remember” has that quick, clipped nostalgia of Joe Brainard’s book-length poem of the same name. After some cascading synths and spirals, Chris Keating tears into a falsetto that involves reminiscences of making love on a Sunday, certain smells (fresh cut grass in may), etc: “You’re stuck in my mind / all the time.”
By the time we get to “ONE,” though, “you don’t move me anymore.” But, thing is, this one has the most movement to it — a joyful, riotous hand-drum Caribbean feel complete with another Bee Gees breakdown. It’s more spacey yearning on “Love Me Girl” which has an after-hours vibe even beyond the repeat entreaties to “stay up and play with me.” It’s maybe the strangest of the more straight-up songs: We get robo voices, steam-pipe percussion, a rattling Blade Runner interlude, more disco, and even a moment of what sounds like a coyote making his call against a starry western backdrop. After this, the album shifts, or perhaps dips, according to your predilection.
The toe-tapping “Rome” rattles forward, but in a less interesting way than the earlier tracks: It has rhythm and propulsion, but feels a bit empty. Yeasayer got folks hooked early on with “2080,” a song that started floating around long before we even knew what the band looked like, so when those sort of harmonies disappear in favor of pure texture, a bit of the appeal drops-out, too. Each of these latter songs = cool incidentals. Just not great individual songs. “Strange Reunions” throws twangy sitars and Queen-like claps into the bonfires. “Mondegreen” does a count-off with horny nighttime funk and a caffeinated declaration that “me and my baby” will be “making love until the morning light.” Was (Not Was) infested with some burrow owls just in time for your aerobics (and or swing-dance) routine? It’s better than we’re making that sound. Odd Blood closes on a mellow note with “Grizelda.” The airy song has a cascading vocal part redolent of the Jackson 5 trying out barber-shop psych-pop (note the iciness that enters at the 1:15 mark). It’s a pretty, gurgling exit that recaptures the earlier goosebumps.
So then, is Odd Blood the most front-loaded album of 2010? We kid. This is a complex collection, even if it’s less than 40 minutes long. There’s a lot to absorb. The other thing to remember: For all the goodness, All Hour Cymbals came with a fair amount of filler. But the band’s always been great live, which more than made up for that fact. This time through the ratio of great/good/blah is much more favorable: We love it up to and including “Love Me Girl.” The love wanes a bit with “Rome,” “Strange Reunions,” and “Mondegreen,” but if there’s anything Odd Blood’s taught us is that love is a fickle up and down thing, so talk to us again after we’ve had more time to absorb this.
Odd Blood is out 2/9 via Secretly Canadian.