On their 2007 debut, All Hour Symbols, Yeasayer brought a unique brand of folk, highlighted by a few danceable tracks placed throughout the album. With their sophomore release, Odd Blood, they turn down the folk, turn up the dance, and provide an album of electro-laden tracks inspired by world-music and futurism. Odd Blood sounds huge, like the songs were designed to keep a crowd dancing in a club-sized venue, but can fill an arena. I had the pleasure of seeing Yeasayer open for Bat for Lashes in Bristol, UK last fall and the lineup should have been the other way around. During their set they played a few songs off Odd Blood, and even people in England were dancing to something other than House music and dub-step. Lead singer Chris Keating commands the stage with the charisma of a modern-day Morrissey and on Odd Blood he stands out. Keating belts lyrics soaked in nostalgia over heavy beats and not world-inspired, but universe-inspired instrumentals. This may be attributed to Peter Gabriel drummer Jerry Marotta helping out on the album, which was recorded at his studio in Woodstock, NY.
“The Children” sets a freaky futuristic tone for Odd Blood. It has booming drums, vocals distorted to the point of being unrecognizable, and vibrating synth that all sound not underwater but submerged in its outer space liquid equivalent, this gives a slow opiate induced feeling with a little speed mixed in. Keating said drug use inspired the sound of this album, and it’s evident. This track is a great lead in to the more up-tempo “Ambling Alp,” where Keating’s vocals are nice to hear as he sings, “you must stick up for yourself, son/nevermind what anybody else done.” Following is “Madder Red,” an area sized track with a simple but effective chanting chorus, and is one of only a few songs where the casual listener can point out a guitar.
Not everything on Odd Blood works. “Love Me Girl” has a two-minute full electronic intro before shifting into what sounds like two different songs that don’t mesh well. It could easily pass as a cheap rip-off from of Montreal outtakes when that group decided to go from simple folk to progressive electro-pop. It also doesn’t help that in the background there are random sounds thrown in that don’t work at all; I may have heard a horse at somepoint. “Rome,” is bland and unmemorable; and despite the strong lyrics, “I Remember” goes nowhere. With no percussion until the half-way point, it provides the listener with nostalgia when they recall how much better the previous track was.
“O.N.E.” is stuck between those three songs but perhaps the most interesting track off the album. Inspired by folky world-music layered in percussion and all sorts of complexities, it’s also wrapped up in an odd structure. The verses are short but dense and dissolve into a longer three-part chorus, first stripped down and percussion free where Keating croons, “hold me like before/hold me like you used to/control me like you used to,” then the song is reconstructed by reinserting the layers until the final piece is added in the third section, a synth that sounds straight out of Australia/New Zealand new-wave circa 1985 but oddly modern at the same time, as he belts out “but I thought you should know/you don’t move me anymore/and I’m glad that you don’t/cause I can’t take it anymore.” This all leads up to the best part of the song. Harmonizing over Keating’s chorus is an R&B style falsetto that reads like an answer to the confusion and contradictions he was singing throughout the track.
Odd Blood ends strong with the spacy Arabian dance vibe of “Strange Reunions,” and the paranoid “Mondegreen” with its horn section and noticeable guitar. The final track, “Grizelda,” slows the pace and acts as a cool down to let you off easy, matching track one as necessary but strong bookends to the album.
Yeasayer took risks on this one, which don’t always work out. However, playing it safe usually creates an uninspired product bathed in mediocrity. While Odd Blood may not be perfect from start to finish, its high points more than make up for the lows.
– Ian Lewis