Music Reviews
Odd Blood

Yeasayer Odd Blood

(Secretly Canadian) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10
Yeasayer’s sophomore album, Odd Blood, gets off to a bad start with The Children, a misstep of baffling magnitude: all robotic ProTools vocal FX and thundering industrial percussion, there’s barely a melody intelligible over the aural sludge. It’s not pretentious, just forced: the processed vocal filters are unnecessary, and simply don’t flow with the rest of the album. It’s the kind of tacked-on afterthought that begs the question: why bother? Mood over content, unfortunately, is something of a theme in Odd Blood: just as The Children clearly prizes its own ‘trippy’ ambiance over, say, lyrics or melody, the rave-ish haze of Love Me Girl overwhelms and dilutes its legitimate pop hooks.
 
Musically, Odd Blood is a pretty drastic about-face from Yeasayer’s 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals. Given that the latter artfully blended Middle Eastern influences with simmering prog, listeners will be forgiven for doing a double-take at the crashing New Romantic drums of Madder Red: Odd Blood sounds a bit like Duran Duran, a bit like Wham!, a bit like Spoons, and a lot like Tears for Fears. If All Hour Cymbals felt whole and earthy, then Odd Blood is all fluorescent drinks and neon clothing. The ballads (I Remember, Strange Reunions, Madder Red) have all the decadence of an all-inclusive resort, and the record’s producers have polished it to a sheen so bright, it’s dangerous to look directly at. 
 
To be fair, ‘80s dance music was never renowned for soul-searching lyrics or trenchant witticisms, so maybe it’s not fair to ask that from Odd Blood. Nonetheless, lines like “Even when my luck is down / I take joy in knowing that our love grows” are pretty big pills to ask any listener to swallow. To consider the lyrical 180° they’ve executed since their last album is not just irritating but genuinely baffling: as a 40-minute piece of psych pop, All Hour Cymbals’ exploration of themes was necessarily shallow, but at least its heart was in the right place. “I can’t sleep when I think about the world we’re living in,” confessed singer Anand Wilder, then name-checked the military-industrial complex, economic meltdown, and the eventual collapse of western civilization, all within 5 minutes. Now, he’s advising us, “Stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done,” upon reflection adding, “Don’t give up on me / And I won’t give up on you.” When not handing out trite advice, Wilder resorts to self-styled ‘trippy’ musings/provocations: Grizelda finds him intoning, “I know every hour of the day, there’s a whisper inside of her brain, telling me who to kill, telling me who will live.”
 
Of course, that’s not to say Odd Blood doesn’t have its share of peaks. Ambling Alp blends worldbeat percussion, canned horns, electronic miscellanea and African polyrhythms into a piece so bubbly, so carefree, so rawly exuberant, that its Disneyfied lyrics fit it perfectly. O.N.E. culminates in a genuine psychedelic freakout: Wilder’s neo-soul falsetto dissolves into a orgiastic breakdown of steel drums, Caribbean beats, and about three different vocal lines, each more opulent than the next. It just goes to show that Yeasayer is fully capable of artfully arranging a contemporary take on ‘80s dance. 
 
The problem with Odd Blood, put succinctly, is that for every thing it does right, there are at least two more that it does wrong. Take Rome, for instance: it’s got a perfectly serviceable (if repetitive) hook, and would seem unlikely to inspire strong feelings (for or against) in anyone. But there’s this swarm of what sounds like alien bats that recurs all throughout the song. Madder Red sees Wilder’s falsetto veering closer to Boy George than Smokey Robinson. Mondegreen features distorted children’s voices and a synthesizer that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Fixx’s One Thing Leads To another. Even Ambling Alp has a thoroughly aggravating patch of arrhythmia featuring—what else?—warped vocals. The more tastefully formulated tracks just can’t offset the profusion of soppy lyricism and the tedium of weaker songs. Ultimately, Odd Blood reads as a well-informed but poorly executed homage to the ‘80s.