Pitchfork: 6.1 Rolling Stone: 4/5 Metacritic: 78 Spin: N/A
Released: February 2010
Madder Red [LISTEN]
Love Me Girl
Yeasayer describes their sound as Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel. Their second full-length album, Odd Blood, carries with it a “pop” additive that blends, believe it or not, quite snugly with the previous descriptor. The Brooklyn-based band had every intention of this, the proof of which, though found amidst their own quotes surrounding the album’s buzz, can be plainly experienced over one sit-down listen of the ambiguously modern release.
For me, the proof came in the form of multiple rough-shot listens that transpired over many a drunken hangout under my friends’ city dwelling (not at all a bad way to discover Yeasayer). Their genre-bending combination of emotion and sound at first baffled me, but the initial indifference I felt over their melodies, which at first seemed second-rate, was with time transformed into something of an obsession for the sound, which, though perhaps through bias, signified for me a feeling of upbeat togetherness that ranged from relaxed to downright dance-y. It was no surprise for me to learn that the album was inspired by an LSD-infused trip to New Zealand.
Odd Blood starts with “The Children”, an oddball track of haphazard electronica and muffled vocoder. As far as first impressions go, they could have fared much better opening with something more along the lines of second track, “Ambling Alp”, which captures the fun and energy of the album far more successfully. Lead singer Chris Keating has a sound all his own, deep but often operatic, with melodies that seem to hark back to the cheesy heyday of the 80s, only it’s not the 80s anymore, and no longer cheesy. “Stick up for yourself, son, nevermind what anybody else done,” he beckons, as funky synthesizers and high-pitched secondary harmonies back him up.
“Madder Red”, a personal favorite, lends itself as evidence that, though all for fun, the band isn’t just about happy pop, with minor and major swings bouncing back and forth. Impressive “oohing” in the form of background vocals support a more subdued Keating in this modern rock ballad. “I Remember” follows with something akin to the same sound that Passion Pit has begun to latch onto with audiences, featuring spacey synths and an equally spacey Keating who reminisces, “You’re stuck in my mind, alllll the time,” a nod to his chance meeting on a plane with his now wife. It makes for a nice break on the dance floor, good to close your eyes and swing your head back and forth to.
“O.N.E.” kicks things back into pop powerhouse as perhaps the biggest standout on Odd Blood, and ironically sung by second-in-command, Anand Wilder. Initially cowbell-dominated, the percussion transforms into pure dance rhythm, a groundwork for the layers of synth-pop and echo-y guitar. It plays like a breakup anthem, with lines like, “No, you don’t move me anymore/ And I’m glad that you don’t/ ‘Cause I can’t have you anymore,” though the sentiments are actually a jab at addiction, specifically alcoholism. The video’s at least as funky and bizarre as the tune, and certainly as fun (see below).
The second half of Odd Blood proves a little less mesmerizing. “Love Me Girl” is half serious, half quirky, Keating’s voice reaching erratically in all directions, not unlike that of Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes. “Rome” is somewhat annoyingly bass-y throughout, the Middle Eastern genre emerging in the form of complicated “Indian-sounding” synth solos. “Strange Reunions” is a soulful, trance-y, not too memorable two-and-a-half minutes. With “Mondegreen”, Keating attempted to recreate the “late 1970s drug-fueled paranoia of David Bowie”, but all I got out of it was the paranoia bit, without much catch. “Grizelda”, though still no gem, is, as bassist Ira Wolf Tuton puts it, “a nice way to close an album. It lulls you into sitting back in your chair, puts you in a trance a bit, although the subject matter might be a bit dark.”
Weather hit or miss (mostly hit seems to be the consensus), Odd Blood showcases a band that’s willing to try just about anything to make their mark, and they seem perfectly at ease in the process, giving in little to the pop expectations of the present. Using pitch shifters, effects pedals, unconventional beats, samples and time signatures, and never committing to a defining sound or genre, there’s something to be lauded for their experimental musical journey.