My god was I excited when Yeasayer's new single "Ambling Alp" came out, along with a video every bit as perplexingly rad as the song.
Based on "Alp," I was salivating for the album. Did it leak? Do you have it? I NEED it! Well, a number of weeks ago I got it, and I couldn't have been more disappointed. I forgot about it almost totally, until this feature on the band came out in last Sunday's New York Times. I read the first sentence and and knew Jon Pareles wasn't employing a gimmicky lead:
YEASAYER is braced for a backlash. "People could turn on us at any moment," said a smiling Anand Wilder, 27... Yeasayer’s second album, "Odd Blood" (Secretly Canadian/We Are Free), purposely sidesteps the sounds that made the band an indie-rock sensation with its 2007 debut album, “All Hour Cymbals."
How does the sound change? Pareles writes:
The sounds of acoustic instruments and echoes of African and Celtic music are upstaged by synthesizers, samples and programming. Instead of vocal-harmony chorales and canons, there are many more straightforward solo lead vocals.
In other words, some of the best aspects of the band have dissolved. They've also lost their drummer, who was a virtuosic dynamo, capable of great abstraction, driving simplicity and stunning punch.
When I first got "Odd Blood," which comes out February 9th, I popped it in on a trip to the coast. I've got a pretty fine car stereo and it seemed like a great opportunity to digest the album in full. None of the other tunes, however, had anything in common with "Ambling Alp." They were these horrid, distant, limp synth wanderings. "I can totally picture these guys," my girlfriend said, having no prior knowledge of the band. "They're little gay goth club kids, right?" She went on, "this is what Duran Duran would sound like in the year 2020."
As the tracks rolled along, it didn't get better. "I know you're supposed to listen to the whole thing," she said, skipping to the next song, "but I can't really take it." I agreed. The Times article explained some of the inspiration for change:
"They’ve been playing in European nightclubs, being exposed to the entertainment industry that supports them worldwide. I think they want to be making the sound that describes the weirdness of the environment they’ve been exposed to. It’s a digital exorcism."
But it's more than that. The band say they consciously rejected what was cool when making their fantastic debut, "All Hour Cymbols," a play on traditional rock even in it's title. Yeasayer say they wanted to take things that weren't hip and make them so, and they did a fine job. Unfortunately the sound they made cool irked Yeasayer, for whatever reason, so they forced change again.
"When you read about a Bob Dylan or David Bowie making a new-sounding record after they made one that was popular, or even loved by a couple of people, people were really mad,” (singer Chris Keating) said. “Then it’s only in hindsight that it was cool. It’s cool to keep moving.”
Maybe their right, and "Odd Blood" will be vindicated. But that's quite a comparison to make from a band who are about to release their second record. And yeah, maybe they were prescient, saying that "people could turn on us at any moment." They pegged me right. But it doesn't make me any less disappointed. I was rocking "Ambling Alp" like a motherfucker for weeks, and I sure would've loved another couple of sweet tunes to take me into spring.