Back in the heady days of late 2007, there were three New York bands comprised of recent graduates from prestigious East Coast universities who put out debut albums and were suddenly thrown into the center of New York's indie rock swirl: Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Yeasayer. While the former two spent the next several years hopping from Saturday Night Live performances to Spin covers, Yeasayer, who did quite well for themselves (they sold nearly 80,000 copies of their debut All Hours Cymbals), lagged slightly behind mass-popularity-wise. This year, all three bands have much-ballyhooed follow-ups. Not that it's a competition or anything, but we have a feeling that neither band has anything on Odd Blood, Yeasayer's pop masterpiece out February 9th (Mute/Secretly Canadian). If we sound effusive, well, just take a listen. More of a traditional pop album than their fuzzy, stoner-friendly, experimental debut, their sophomore record is a stomping fusion of rollicking electro-tribal anthems and post-apocalyptic '90s dance-party jams.
Baltimore-bred high school
friends Chris Keating and Anand Wilder started Yeasayer back in 2005
after graduating from RISD and U Penn, respectively. Like their fellow
Baltimoreans (and classmates) Animal Collective, they headed north to
Brooklyn where they hooked up with bassist Ira Wolf Tuton (Wilder's
cousin) and drummer Luke Fasano (who left the band last year). It was
their 2007 break-out single, the shimmering "2080," which Conan O'Brien
called his "favorite song in a long time" on an episode of Late Night,
that first put the band on the map. After releasing All Hours Cymbals,
they spent the next few years touring, garnering a devoted following
along the way, most notably, Tuton points out, in Helsinki. "These
people would die for us and kill for us," he says. "But we got the
feeling that if we didn't do what they wanted, they'd just kill us."
Following the first record, "We sat down at the Yeasayer headquarters in a conference room and wrote out a declaration, stabbed it into the wall with a Roman sword and examined the livers of a hawk," jokes lead singer Keating. In actuality, the trio rented a house in Woodstock from Peter Gabriel's former drummer and spent three months last spring in the studio, playing with Pro Tools plug-ins and knob-noodling the days away, a recording process that bordered on the obsessive. ("I have about 50 versions of each song on my iTunes" Wilder says.) In terms of the album's direction, explains Keating, "We wanted to make a poppier record with more clarity and to remove some of the haze of the first album." Adds Wilder, "We wanted to bring the vocals to the core, and the rhythms up."
The album is indeed less hazy, and phrases like "radio friendly" (whatever that means in this day and age) have been tossed around. But that's not to say that Odd Blood isn't...well, odd. From the album's slightly terrifying, alien-like opener "The Children" to the splashes of water and crickety synths backing up Keating's frantic warble on "Ambling Alp" to the Real McCoy samples on "Love Me Girl," there are strange, jarring moments throughout. And if you're not convinced that the members of Yeasayer are a bunch of weirdos, watch the music video for "Ambling Alp." It involves a lot of face-massaging.
There is something a bit anachronistic about Yeasayer; it's unclear if these songs recall the past, the future, the present, some future interpretation of the past, or a retro, Jetsons-like vision of the future. Keating puts it best: "I wanted to make a futuristic album that sounded like 2010." As well as, he says, "an album you can listen to while watching Rock of Love in the bubble bath with your man before making love all night long."