Saturday, June 5, 2010

Yeasayer "Odd Blood"

Sille Iloste

Being one of the “common people” who occasionally listens to Power Hit Radio, it is indeed a considerable (yet interesting!) challenge for me to review something that somebody else has suggested as quality music. Therefore, just to inform my readers right away, the following review will not contain sentences such as it’s weirdly plodding with distorted sci-fi vocals, clanging percussion, and eventually smooth synthesizers and submerged horn sounds (by brandon) or it’s a bird-sound-haunted, ambient, rambling hymnal, somewhere between shoegaze, psych-folk and ambient (by Emily MacKay). What the review does offer, however, are my own utterly subjective and honest thoughts and impressions as they have been provoked by the songs on the album. Although perhaps lacking in quality to some extent, I would still like to consider my point of view as somewhat refreshing and potentially interesting as well.

Odd Blood (2010) is the second album by Yeasayer, the alternative/indie/experimental band from Brooklyn, New York. The three members of the band – Anand Wilder (multi-instrumentalist), Chris Keating (lead vocals, keyboards), Ira Wolf Tuton (bass guitar, vocals) – themselves have said that Odd Blood is definitely a poppier album than their debut album All Hours Cymbals (2007), one of the aims of the former being to sonically challenge Rihanna in the clubs. Why not. Let us see if they have succeeded.

The first song on the album, The Children, is an interesting start indeed. The rhythm is gripping and, closing my eyes, I immediately find myself on a live concert swaying along with the audience. Although the electronic intro reminds me of my own music making back in the day – using some pots and pans as drums – the song, in fact, goes far beyond those jolly memories. As the somewhat dark and unearthly vocals start, we get the feeling that the fate of mankind is being told precisely by this song: the lyrics tell us that (it took some effort to understand them, I must admit) We are the children and we’ll give you trouble if we don’t like what you’re doing... Despite this gloomy atmosphere, I am intrigued and encouraged to listen further, so the first track has done its job well, I believe.

Ambling Alp (the nickname given to an Italian boxer apparently) is the first single from the album and undoubtedly a more positive and lively tune than the previous song. By the time the chorus begins, one cannot but throw in some dance moves. The chorus is memorable so that even an hour later I can hear Chris Keating telling me to stick up for yourself, son... never mind what anybody else done. I love how this “happy” song responds to the “doom” predicted by the previous one; perhaps a message like this is precisely what we need in times like these (the overall depression, I mean). Looking then at the big picture – a positive message blended with a catchy tune that almost sounds like disco – this song is indeed a rather obvious choice for a single. By the way, I do recommend watching the video as well – it is interesting enough to try to figure out what they have meant by this.

Just when I was hoping that the positive atmosphere will carry on, what we get is another melancholy song: Madder Red. I like the drums and I most definitely like how they sing in harmony ooh-ooh-ooh, but I have doubts about the way such a promising start evolves into verbal contemplation of how he is not worth her time and she should not ask why he has not been on her side etc. Like I said, the review is highly subjective. Therefore, despite the fact that I personally feel that there are too many “sad” songs and too few of those that really make you feel good about living in the world as it is, the song is still worth listening to, especially for the ooh-ooh-ooh part.

I Remember, the fourth song on the album, is the first one that made me lose interest by the time the second verse could begin. There are some surreal sounds (created with a damaged keyboard as it turns out) and some very high notes by Keating telling us how he made love on a Sunday; however, as there is hardly any variation throughout the four and a half minutes (and I am not a big fan of what one might call ambient music in the first place), I rather impatiently move on to the next track.

ONE is the second single from the album and – yes! – a song that makes the listener dance. The lively tune and the gripping beat of the drums are hard to ignore. Although Keating sings here with his clear voice No-No, you don’t move me any more, I truly appreciate it that he does it in a non-melancholy way, without the slightest regret and self-pity. I realize now that I very much like Yeasayer when they sing catchy dance songs like this one and Ambling Alp.

The sixth song, Love Me Girl, is a song I would not have expected from Yeasayer. When the lyrics start after the long intro (only at 1:51), it sounds as if our very own Lowry has been asked to contribute to the song, thus making me check if it is still Yeasayer I am listening to. Although the R&B-like verses and the it-sounds-like-some-dance-hit beats might be somewhat unconventional considering the album as a whole, this song acts as an efficient reminder telling us that Yeasayer can surprise its listeners just when we think we have figured them all out.

The next song, Rome, is pretty much a repetition of five lines accompanied by just as repetitive rhythm. The members of the band themselves claim that the song rips off Moroccan and Syrian dance music, and, indeed, the song might work just fine out there. Here, however, the song is a bit annoying.

Perhaps the only word to describe Strange Reunions, the eighth song on the album, is “strange”. The song is short (2:37) and confusing as it seems to combine an uncountable number of different elements and effects. It is hard to understand the message as well: it sounds as if the words uttered by Keating are unable to reach us due to unimaginably thick fog. For further information, please consult the it’s a bird-sound-haunted-sentence by Emily MacKay above.

Mondegreen is yet another dance song. However, the song is so fast that it is hard to keep up with it at first. Yet, once I manage to feel the rhythm in my bones, I really start to like it. Although some might argue that the song is too over the top and even Keating himself says that the song is deliberately created to sound paranoid, I find the energy of the song amazing. Everybody's talkin’ ’bout me and my baby, makin’ love til the mornin’ light, makin’ love til the mornin’ mornin’ light...

The last song, Grizelda (dedicated to some drug lord), is a much calmer song than the previous one, suggesting that it is time to wrap it up for today. Or go to sleep as the lyrics tell us. The song reminds me of the sounds, those slow and slightly confusing electronic sounds, I heard at the beginning of the album, thinking that they were the Yeasayer’s “thing”. As it then links all parts of the album together, it is a proper ending as well.

Looking back on this experience, I must admit that Yeasayer did succeed in surprising me. There were songs I really liked (Ambling Alp, ONE, Mondegreen) and songs that provoked slightly less positive emotions in me. Yet, overall, this diverse album is an excellent start when one wants to familiarize herself with quality music different from that coming from some mainstream radio. Did they manage to sonically challenge Rihanna? Further investigation needed. :)

1 comment:

bv said...

As you say it, it's a distinctly subjective approach - and presents an intriguing struggle between listener expectations and the album; or listener background and how it makes sense of the blend of alien and familiar on the album.

"The following review will not contain sentences such as..." - yet you immediately go on containing them anyway 8)