Yeasayer: The Jam Band Goes Digital
New iTunes genre tag: "LOL Brooklyn." New entry under said tag: Yeasayer's Odd Blood, wherein the fanciest of boroughs gets its very own Tears for Fears. Geographically sprawling, blithely psychedelic, deadly earnest, unapologetically corny, wantonly synth-overloaded, occasionally transcendent '80s new wave frivolity—r&b for people who still refuse to listen to actual r&b. Shameless is the move. You can do worse. Many people will. So make like their famously NSFW "Ambling Alp" video, take off all your clothes, mind that glowing geodesic dome, start sprinting precariously downhill through the desert, and let's do this.
Yeasayer's 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals, occasioned more instances of the word "tribal" than any other record, ever. Like an apocalyptic campfire sing-along drenched in reverb and manic percussion, barely skirting the worldly cheeseball pop of Deep Forest or Enigma, and sometimes not skirting it at all. The band played a couple of mildly zeitgeist-y Bowery Ballroom shows with MGMT, who seemed like doppelgängers at first but turned out to be way poppier and more nihilistic. (And marketable.) Whereas Cymbals' best quality is its blatant, aching sincerity: "I can't sleep when I think about the times we're living in/I can't sleep when I think about the future I was born into," co-frontman Chris Keating moans on "2080" (as in, "In 2080, I'll surely be dead"). "Red Cave" ended the album with a startlingly direct chant: "I'm so blessed to have spent the time/With my family/And the friends I love/In my short life/I have met so many people I deeply care for," repeatedly intoned, amid yearning sitars, with a Jesus Christ Superstar sort of guilelessness, daring you to laugh. A sweet, solemn affirmation worthy of the band's name.
And now, a few years later, despite all the nudity-based visual and sonic wackiness (concussive drums, squiggly keyboards, some farting horns to offset those multi-part, karaoke-proof bouts of flamboyant falsetto), Odd Blood's "Ambling Alp" is basically a jazzercise self-help seminar. Chorus: "Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else does." Triumphant conclusion: "Now the world can be an unfair place at times/But your lows will have their complement of highs." (Fans of The Secret, take note.) The lyrics are daring you to laugh again: "Everybody's talkin' 'bout me and my baby," Keating breathlessly intones on the manic "Mondegreen," amid a stuttering, booming yeti-handclap beat and more horns, more thunderous keyboards, more everything. "Makin' love to the morning light/Makin' love till the morning, morning light/Makin' love till the morning." Another tune mimics the pornographic robo-funk of Of Montreal, but instead of being called "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" or whatever, it's called "Love Me Girl," and it is serious.
It's tempting to lump these boys in with Animal Collective and be done with it: lush, grandiose drum-circle overproduction in the service of the twee-est sentiments imaginable, four walls and adobe slabs here replaced by stuff like, "You don't move me anymore/And I'm glad that you don't." But succumb to this brazen goofiness (and survive military-stiff, plodding, android-voiced, seemingly deliberately terrible opening track "The Children," the ogre guarding the bridge), and this can all actually be delightful. When the triumphant oooh-wee-oooh chants burst into view like a twin sunrise on "Madder Red," you can either flee in terror or go prancing toward Narnia along with them. "O.N.E.," led by warmer-voiced co-frontman Anand Wilder, ascends to flashback-lunch dance-party heaven. And "I Remember" is a monster ballad, the synths and Keating's falsetto both even goopier than usual, overwhelming in their kaleidoscopic ardor. Chorus: "You're stuck in my mind/All the time." That'll do, pig.
That one goes over pretty big Monday night, back at the Bowery Ballroom—no MGMT this time, just a packed room of blissful proto-hippies who request a neighborly iPhone light to assist in rolling their joints. (All right, that's just the one guy, but still.) Even with five dudes onstage, there's plenty of canned drumbeat and synthesizer action, leaving the actual drummer and his miscellaneous-percussion cohort a little lost and superfluous at times, though the latter does illustrate the old zen koan that the only way to look remotely badass while playing maracas is to be dramatically, colorfully backlit. For a long while, Cymbals tracks integrate everything and everyone together far more effectively; "Wait for the Summer," though a pretty breezy handclaps-and-quasi-yodeling affair, is an instant energy jolt. It takes me nine songs before I even notice that fretless bass, that most potentially disastrous of instruments, is prominently involved here.
We survive. "Mondegreen," the yeti-handclap tune, shows up late in the set and is much improved from the Odd Blood version—less cluttered, more lithe and muscular, magically transformed into a sort of aggro reggaeton. There's a lot happening with these guys, a considerable amount of it somewhat ill-advised, but the whole electro-jam-band thing wins you over, eventually. We climax with "Ambling Alp," that dopey chorus shouted en masse, a roomful of converts suggesting, in unison, that you think for yourself. There's a little fretless bass solo at the end. We don't mind.
Yeasayer play Webster Hall May 4
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