Waaay back in 2007, Yeasayer popped up as part of the Brooklyn scene largely unnoticed. They slaved away supporting bands, including Beck (which is where I was turned on to them), and hoped that perhaps they’d be just that little bit more popular than they really were. But alas, the experimental, global village sound of their debut album “All Hour Cymbals”, while majestic to those who got their mitts on it, was commercially overlooked.
Now they’ve gone pop – yeah, that’s right, an experimental band go pop, so you must be thinking “Ergh, that sounds awful”, right? Well maybe you should think again. Yeasayer’s second effort is every bit as good as the first, even with an altered sound.
But have they really gone pop? After all, opening track “The Children” is super-scary, with its strange backing track and completely distorted vocals. Perhaps this was the band’s attempt to show that just because they said they were gonna go more commerical, they wouldn’t leave their roots behind. Brave move on their part: don’t be put off by this completely bonkers opener. It stays bonkers, but nowhere near as scary!
So on to the bulk of the album, getting past the dark woods of “The Children”. First single “Ambling Alp” is the perfect ballad for everyone who’s ever been or done something a bit different as frontman Anan sings: “Stick up for yourself son/Never mind what anybody else does” on its chorus. Here we get the first taste of his wildly fluctuating vocals as well – in case you don’t know, he can sing in a silky smooth voice and yelp wildly just as easily (more on that later). “Ambling Alp” is the perfect point to start on a Yeasayer-voyage. It’s great for those who are just a little tentative, as it’s not too experimental and fits the mould of an off-kilter pop song wonderfully.
“Ambling Alp” sets the tone for most of the rest of the album, so if you like that then you’re bound to like what the guys have around the corner. Second single “O.N.E.” comes at you with a zing – literally – and moves into a medley of percussion, stabbing bass, minimal yet effective drumwork and global-village synths. Oh and then there’s Anan’s voice again. For most of “O.N.E.” he’s in silky-smooth crooner mood but then right at the end he gets an attitude and does what I suppose is his version of a rap – and it’s just so good. “O.N.E.” is, in my opinion, the best song on the album, so it’s no wonder it got picked as a single – it not only walks the pop tightrope but does the splits on it.
Other major highlights include “Love Me Girl”, an wonderful old-school dance inspired track that shows off what Yeasayer can do. “Love Me Girl” moves from the old-school piano opening to a haunting cuckoo-noise before descending into minimalism as only Anan’s voice and one or two other sounds can be heard before bursting into drama again. And then a seemingly out-of-place guitar riff, Anan singing and an abrupt ending. And if that sounds mad, it is. But it’s ingeniously brilliant. “Mondegreen” is the most fast paced of all the tracks on the album – it also happens to be the penultimate track on the album, giving it that extra drama. The constant beating of the drums, the sheer speed of Anan’s singing and the urgency of the synths all build up into a hypnotically intense experience. Throw in a little smattering of cheesy trumpets and you’ve got yourself a great song, mister!
The only low point of the album for me personally is “I Remember”, a slow ballad that I just don’t think suits the style of the band at all. They do ballads better when they’re up-tempo, not downbeat. That’s just not what I think this band is about at all.
On the whole, I’d strongly recommend you get your paws on “Odd Blood” – it’s a fabulous album by an underrated, overlooked band who deserve to be doing better than they actually are. If you’re looking for an antidote to the generic pop of today, then give Yeasayer a go: you won’t be disappointed!
So I wanted to put the official video for “O.N.E.” up but I couldn’t find a one that I could embed on YouTube – if I can find one at a later date I’ll update it but for now, here’s the song with a pic of the band: