Since the release of their critically acclaimed 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals, Yeasayer has been around the world and back again. While their first record was conceived in total artistic isolation, constant touring forced Yeasayer to finally engage with their contemporaries. If All Hour Cymbals was Yeasayer's attempt at global and ambient cultural mash-up then their new album, ODD BLOOD, takes place in an off-world colony sometime after the Singularity. Glimmering reverb haze is eschewed and replaced by a cavalcade of disorienting pitch effects and flickering ectoplasmic wisps.
Review by Andrew Leahey
Don’t judge a book by its cover…or an album by its first track. Odd Blood gets off to an odd start with “The Children” -- a robotic, plodding song that prizes mood over melody -- before settling into a more balanced groove, mixing the multicultural sounds of Yeasayer's debut with a new emphasis on electronica, global trip-hop, and digital production. Like All Hour Cymbals, this is a thinking man’s album, one that requires its listeners to put on their thinking caps as well as their dancing shoes. It’s more urban than its predecessor, though, with most songs ditching the tribal harmonies and lo-fi analog ambience of the band’s earlier work in favor of an electric, textured sound. “Love Me Girl,” with its mix of Balearic beat keyboards and sampled female vocals, could have come from an Ibiza nightclub, while “Madder Red” strikes an unlikely balance between synth pop, Middle Eastern folk, and ‘80s dance music. Anand Wilder often abandons his guitar entirely, focusing instead on the keyboards that serve as Odd Blood’s bedrock, and he sings the latter song in a voice that’s clear, pleasant, and devoid of the yelping that characterized some of All Hour Cymbals’ tracks. Chris Keating has similarly improved, so much so that he delivers a rather stunning ballad -- the Air-influenced “I Remember” -- with warmth and understated confidence. Odd Blood’s emphasis on genre-mashing can overwhelm the weaker tunes, whose melodies are sometimes less interesting than the arrangements themselves, but the album has enough highlights to outweigh any filler on side B. All in all, this is a rare sophomore album that widens the band's sound without narrowing its appeal.
When Yeasayer debuted in 2007 with All Hour Cymbals, they were a Brooklyn art-pop group intriguingly out of step with their peers. They carried an air of mystery and surprise, and at their best ("2080", "Sunrise") managed to make offbeat mysticism and off-kilter pop music seem attractive and exciting. They were basically a rootsy, classic rock-ish version of MGMT then. Their fate seemed doubly sealed by "Tightrope", their laser-focused and damn near best-in-show contribution to the all-star charity compilation Dark Was the Night.
Then they arguably topped that with "Ambling Alp", the pre-release single to sophomore album Odd Blood. "Alp" managed to retain the leftfield bona fides within an easy-to-love glassy pop sheen. That duality extended to the lyrics as well: The song is about infamous Italian boxer Primo Carnera, but in the chorus Chris Keating sang the kind of wholesome fatherly advice you might hear in a Shrek montage.
Like "Ambling Alp", Odd Blood itself should appeal to a lot of people: Yeasayer have made a potentially vanguard record using the full range of possibilities of software-based music to create what once would have been radio-friendly rock. The elastic "O.N.E." and the Tears for Fears-ish "I Remember" are successful mid-80s throwbacks, achieving the full potential hinted at on All Hour Cymbals and rivaling that album's best material. Opener "The Children" also works by tailoring their offbeat tendencies into a tightly packaged song. In much of the first half of the album, Yeasayer demonstrate a rare craftsmanship and consideration that's too often shoved under the rug in modern indie music. Their lyrics may not say much of anything, but their agile arrangements, sense of dynamics and pacing, and singer Chris Keating's expressive vocals communicate plenty.
The rest of the album suffers from a major identity crisis-- few of the various far-flung ideas it explores pan out, and most of them wind up overcooked. On the whole, the record alternates between a prog-rock version of 80s UK synth-pop (and those are the good songs) and dreadlocky alt-pop or yuppie-era world music imitations (aaaand... those are the bad ones). Songs like "Rome" or "Love Me Girl" aim for ambitious sprawl but just wind up muddy, while the ballads "Strange Reunions" and "Grizelda" seem plodding and congested. The more in need of editing the music gets, the weaker the lyrics become: "Mondegreen" is the worst offender, with Keating chanting "Everybody's talking about me and my baby makin' love 'til the morning light" ad nauseum over shamanistic electro-boogie. (But you knew that-- I mean, everybody's talking about it.)
Of course, Yeasayer aren't going anywhere: quality singles, inventive videos, and solid live performances go far. But it's hard to miss the pressure the band was under to deliver here-- it's nearly palpable in their overfed production and search for direction, and as a result, Odd Blood is a bit too much of not enough. I went back and listened to "Tightrope" again. It remains charming, human, and assured, winning your affection instead of trying to earn your respect. When Odd Blood succeeds, it does the same, but when it fails, it fails badly.
— Scott Plagenhoef, February 11, 2010