The sophomore album has turned into a make-or-break test for unfledged bands. Critics and listeners alike, each of whom might be more forgiving toward a talented band’s debut disc, expect a more cohesive production on a follow-up record. Without this development, listeners are quick to throw a group aside and search out the next flavor-of-the-month indie outfit. This environment encourages many bands to churn out grandiose and convoluted records, which often try to achieve too much and ultimately fall short of expectations. On Yeasayer’s second album Odd Blood, the Brooklyn-based band avoids these perils with a concise record that pushes the band’s experimental talents without overstepping its limitations.
Yeasayer began building its reputation for wild experimentation with a successful showing at Austin, Texas’s SXSW Festival in 2007, followed by its debut All Hour Cymbals later that same year. The group’s genre is impossible to label without the help of at least six hyphens, since it draws influences from styles as diverse as psychedelic pop and pan-African grooves. It has also been reported that the band has relied on more chemical influences — namely LSD — to envision its freakier elements. By drawing on vastly different mediums for inspiration, it’s clear Yeasayer is more concerned with creating unique sound waves than fitting into cookie-cutter musical categories.
Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Odd Blood’s ten tracks are an easily digestible collection of synth-heavy beats infused with disparate musical progressions, creating a kaleidoscope of sound. Despite a vast assortment of influences, the band doesn’t allow itself to get carried away by sonic tangents, preferring (as band member Ira Wolf Tuton recently explained in an interview with Dummymag.com) “sparer arrangements” instead of over-the-top musical theatrics. By making a conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of an over-ambitious second album, Odd Blood highlights Yeasayer’s strongest points.
Recorded in a stripped-down home studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Odd Blood achieves a crisp-clean sound, which is drastically different from its predecessor’s smoggy distortion. However, this distinction strengthens the album by allowing its odd progressions to stand out as clearly as possible.
The band introduces these erratic soundscapes on the album opener “The Children,” a warbled cut that relies on demonic-sounding distortions for a very unsettling effect. It sounds as if the band attempted to combine a horror B-movie with Pro Tools and too much peyote. Thankfully, the song is drastically different from any other selection on the album, thereby begging the question: What message is Yeasayer trying to send with such a discomforting introduction?
The remaining songs deal largely with domestic issues, with a heavy emphasis on love, relationships and the troubles induced by these two realms. The standout, “ONE,” is a falsetto-prone jam that will likely dominate hipster dance parties for the rest of the year. Relying on an array of bells, occasional bass beats and an overarching feel-good attitude, the track epitomizes the entire album’s prevailing optimism, a theme the band claims is attributable to Barack Obama’s presidential victory.
The majority of Odd Blood continues with this cheery attitude, gravitating from experimental-pop beats (“Love Me Girl”) to falsetto-driven love songs (“I Remember”) and dream-gazey wonderment (“Strange Reunions”). The album’s first single, “Ambling Alp,” deviates somewhat from the prevailing buoyancy, contrasting quirky beats with heavily distorted vocals to create a clash of innovation that manages to work. These deviations contrast with the album’s more accessible cuts, diversifying its overall feel and allowing it to be multifaceted rather than formalistic.
Despite a tenuous beginning, Odd Blood achieves far more than the average follow-up record. By combining ambitious musical developments with a clear focus and eclectic flourishes, Yeasayer avoids the failures of the oft-seen sophomore slump. After a few high-volume listens, one must wonder what other talents this young band will showcase in the future.