Coming from a band whose very name quite literally denoted positivism, Yeasayer’s All Hour Cymbals was mired in an omnipresent darkness. Practically every song exuded an ominous haze, creating a document less about punchy melodies or memorable rhythms than a darkly exotic atmosphere. Trippy, paranoid, and thoroughly weird, All Hour Cymbals soundtracked an imagined party at the edge of the world, at the end of the world, kicking off the opening ceremonies with the tribal stomp of “Sunrise” and fading into oblivion with the minimal dirge of “Red Cave.” There were moments of joy and ecstasy, but in one of its most chilling moments, frontman Chris Keating sings with utmost clarity, “I can’t sleep when I think about the world we’re living in.”
Funny thing, then, that the very song from which that unsettling statement comes, “2080,” was actually the album’s most tuneful and transcendent. While the creepily exotic and dense prog-pop of the band’s debut certainly sounded cool, ultimately it was the handful of outstanding pop songs, such as “2080” or “Wait for the Summer,” frontloading the album that I most frequently returned. These songs revealed a much more dynamic quality to the band, showcasing not only their sonic depth but melodic strengths as well. The only complaint to be had was that there simply weren’t enough of them. However, when Yeasayer dropped new single “Ambling Alp,” rife with bouncy electronic beats and irony-free positive lyrics, it signaled a slight change in course for the band. Still weird, and still exotic, Yeasayer was finally ready to fully embrace their pop instincts.
Significantly distanced from their last album’s Peter Gabriel and Lindsey Buckingham-style sonics, Odd Blood opts for a more direct, new wave inspired approach. Danceable beats abound, and bubbly synthesizers are in long supply. Yeasayer has assembled a brighter, more sociable set of songs this time around. And instead of sounding like a great, post-apocalyptic bonfire, Odd Blood feels much more like an actual party, and it’s loaded with some serious jams.
“Ambling Alp” has been compared to both recent Animal Collective and Erasure, to give some indication of its joyous eccentricity. Its bouncy, neon melody sacrifices cool for the sake of melody and memorability, and the song is all the better for it. Amidst shuddering beats and Afrobeat horns, Keating offers big-hearted self-help lines like “Stick up for yourself, son/ nevermind what anybody else done” and “wear your wounds with pride.” Second single “O.N.E.” is similarly buoyant and dynamic, leaping from clacking metal percussion to a giant, echoing guitar riff, to a hyperactive synth line during the chorus. Yet, unlike “Ambling Alp,” there’s an undercurrent of regret to the song, as Keating declares, “No, you don’t move me anymore/ and I’m glad you don’t, because I can’t take it anymore.”
All throughout Odd Blood, there’s a tug-of-war between romance and sadness, ecstasy and distress. On the stunning ballad “I Remember,” Keating croons, “I remember making love on a Sunday,” only to be followed a verse later with “I remember on Monday, making your eyes red/ I still don’t know what it is that I said.” Paired with such a gorgeous melody, it hits the listener with an emotional dart. Meanwhile, on “Mondegreen,” one of a few boogie-down tracks that remind me of Prince’s “Delirious,” Keating offers “Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout me and my baby, making love till the morning light.” Still, he doesn’t sound like he’s boasting so much as nervously watching over his shoulder. And on the stunning “Madder Rose,” Keating simply laments, “It’s getting hard pretending I’m worth your time.”
For all the heartbreak and resignation that arises throughout Odd Blood, there is hope underneath. There are memories to be relished and lessons to be learned. Chins are kept firmly up, and the dancing keeps on going through the night. Which isn’t to say that some of the weirder elements of their first album are completely gone–creepy leadoff track “The Children” actually seems to intensify their strangest instincts. But this is an album that embraces its listener, savoring the moment not for fear of when it might end, but for how good it feels right now.
Video: “Ambling Alp”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.