It takes only 20 seconds of “Ambling Alp” to figure out what the members of Yeasayer were doing in the time off between their sophomore album, Odd Blood, and their 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals: Dudes clearly fell in love with dance music. It’s probably an unfortunate time for that to happen, since now it’ll be impossible for Yeasayer to shake all those Animal Collective Jr. jokes. With Odd Blood, they’ve embraced the same dance-music-loving pan-popism that made Animal Collective your sister’s favorite band for a month last year. That’s not to say Odd Blood doesn’t have its share of surprises, but this probably isn’t what anyone had in mind coming out of All Hour Cymbals.
“Ambling Alp” is the set’s first real song (it’s preceded by a three-minute slog of noise work called “The Children”) and Yeasayer’s first festival-ready crowd pleaser. It trades in the same kind of smiley optimism as MGMT and flaunts more sloganeering than you can shake a cassingle of “Right Now” at (“Stick up for your self son/ Never mind what anyone else does,” goes the chorus). But what it lacks in thematic depth, it makes up for in resolve. It’s the track here that becomes hard to shake from your frontal lobe. The same kind of shininess picks back up on “O.N.E.,” a sometimes discordant track that twists in on itself repeatedly, launching between tribal beats, noise sketches, and Lion King soundtrack outtakes.
Odd Blood doesn’t find its legs until the pseudo-ballads that fill a third of the album. “Madder Red,” led by Anand Wilder’s mourning wail, is the best of these. The track’s hazy, serrating guitar riff recalls the band’s best (particularly “Wait for the Wintertime”). The Chris Keating-led “I Remember” is the most lighter-use-ready; its cascading instrumentation suggests it was written with the ending of a weepy movie in mind (it’d probably work well with Avatar).
Throughout its padded 40-minute run time (like All Hour Cymbals, it’s got a decent amount of filler), Odd Blood makes a stronger case for what’s up next for the band’s sound than where it is now. The mish-mash of their earlier doom-ridden tribalism and ‘80s synth-dance can provide for tracks that are good (“Ambling Alp”) as easy at it can for tracks that are less so (“Love Me Girl”). Think of Odd Blood as more a mission statement than a breakthrough moment.
To create Odd Blood, Yeasayer holed themselves up in the hills of Woodstock, NY, before putting the final touches on the album in New York City. Those are certainly fitting locations for a band that often moves so deftly between middle-of-nowhere experimentation and the sharp melodies of city streets. With the band promising another thickly layered set of quirky pop, and their new home at ever-consistent Secretly Canadian label, this follow up to the excellent All Hour Cymbals comes with no shortage of anticipation.