Mischievous from the word go, Yeasayer‘s second album Odd Blood opens with a musical red herring. With its clunky electronics, cow bells and slo-mo vocals, The Children sounds like a nasty 1970s Peter Gabriel single played at 33rpm. It’s best taken as a palate cleanser, providing a clear break between the stately mystique of their debut All Hour Cymbals and the unashamedly crowd-pleasing yet deceptively complex remainder of the new album.
Odd Blood consists mainly of rhythmic, catchy, ’80s-inflected pop; drawing upon everything from U2 to Eurythmics to Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Which isn’t to say that it’s trendy pastiche; or that Yeasayer have sold out in any respect. Unlike fellow Brooklynites MGMT and Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer retain enough depth and weirdness to keep the most cynical hipsters twirling their moustaches in admiration.
Accompanied by one of the loopiest promo videos ever made, Ambling Alp is a triumphant alternative anthem which sails a narrow course between cheesiness and derangement. Burbly ’80s synths accompany the sound of drumstick on hexagonal yellow pad, as Chris Keating belts out the chorus of “Stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done.” In both tone and sentiment, he manages to sound a little like Bono – but as if Bono sang in tandem with the music rather than just yowling over the top of it. Sacrificing good grammar for a killer rhyme is (perversely) a good thing here, pushing the spirit of the song away from earnest teen rebellion and towards unselfconscious, irreverent celebration of the self.
Other bands who were desperately uncool until about 10 minutes ago are endlessly referenced as Odd Blood progresses. Madder Red manages to combine a Toto-style vocal arrangement with a drum track that wouldn’t have been out of place on Phil Collins‘ Face Value album. With its “Woah-oh-ohs” and keyboard sustain, I Remember evokes a slo-mo romantic moment in a Simpson/Bruckheimer film. And with its refrain of “Everyone’s talkin’ bout me and my baby / Making love til the morning light,” Mondegreen unearths distant memories of the lightweight late-’80s soul of Wet Wet Wet or Curiosity Killed The Cat.
And yet Yeasayer’s wit and inventiveness always manages to avoid any kind of descent into cliché. On the one hand – Vocoders, falsetto interludes and Casio keyboards on pipe organ setting. On the other – so many ideas and layers of sound crammed into each song that nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Odd Blood peaks in the middle, with two marvelous extended tracks which take the raw materials of ’80s soul and funk and somehow manage to inject the mesmeric, insistent rhythms of Krautrock without making a terrible mess of things. On one level, O.N.E. and Love Me Girl are derivative white-boy funk with their jacket sleeves firmly rolled up to the elbow; on another they’re profound, multi-layered mantras as intoxicating as anything ever created by Can or Neu!
Perhaps it’s not so strange that it all hangs together. After all, All Hour Cymbals managed to combine a bewildering array of influences without sounding overloaded. And as T4 presenters and E4 voice-over artists constantly remind us, irony and sincerity are by no means mutually exclusive these days. Again, it’s riveting stuff from the Brooklynites.