MUSIC Most bands change over time. Change makes most people uncomfortable. I — for all intents and purposes — am most people. Therefore, when a band I care about changes, most of the time I feel uncomfortable.
I must admit that the first few times I heard Yeasayer’s sophomore LP, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian, 2010), my level of discomfort was hovering somewhere between a middle seat of the Muni No. 9 during rush hour and a trip to a swingin’ singles club with Larry Craig and John Edwards. Expecting another slice of the eclectic, experimental indie rock of their fantastic debut, All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free, 2007), I was shocked to find 10 surprisingly streamlined, often danceable cuts, generally devoid of the varied Middle Eastern influences that peppered their debut. But after a few listens, something funny happened. My discomfort turned into enjoyment, my disappointment into excitement.
In reality, I should have seen this coming. A band as creative and fiercely individual as Yeasayer was never going to make the same album twice. Tracks from All Hour Cymbals like “2080” and “Sunrise” hinted that the Brooklyn-ites had this in them, and Odd Blood is the sound of a band saying, “Fuck it, let’s go for it.” It would have actually been a safer decision for the group to move in an even more esoteric sonic direction since they’ve already got the hipster, faux-intellectual demographic on lock. As groups like Animal Collective and Of Montreal have proven, you can do pretty damn well just by hanging on to those kids.
Don’t get me wrong, while Odd Blood represents an ostensibly poppier direction for the group, it’s not like they turned into the All American Rejects. Even the most mainstream-friendly cuts — the lead singles “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.” — are heavily layered, multifaceted tracks that simply don’t sound like anything anyone else is doing. “Ambling Alp” — an upbeat, immediate number built from agitated stabs of synth, a busy bassline, and vocalist Chris Keating’s confident, dexterous vocals — twists and turns for four exhilarating minutes. “O.N.E.” has a distinctly island feel and is ready to soundtrack the summer, even if it’s still February.
Keating and Co. (multi-instrumentalists Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder) keep throwing curveballs, especially on the ballad “I Remember.” Keating’s emotive, graceful falsetto is at the heart of the plaintive track, sure to strike a chord in those who are missing a loved one. The surprisingly simple and direct (in lyrical content and melody) number shows off a totally different side of the group and creates a palpable sense of nostalgia and longing. More flappers-and-the-Charleston than flannel-and-thick-rimmed-glasses, “Rome” sounds like something out of an indie cabaret show. “Love Me Girl” would be a lost MJ track if he’d been dropping acid instead of hanging out with mannequins.
Is Odd Blood a step forward or a step back? To borrow a Wonka-ism, it is a step slantways. And it was always going to be. All I can say for sure is there is no way to tell where Yeasayer will go from here, because the members themselves don’t seem to know (or care) what the future holds. Honestly, if their next album is an Uzbek folk rolk-influenced dubstep/crunk/easy listening mashup, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Would I be apprehensive about it at first? Of course. Would it stop me from giving it a long listen? No fucking way. In fact, it would only be a true letdown if it sounded like a copy of a previous album.