Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Yeasayer - Odd Blood (* * *)

The sophomore slump; well documented and probably over-discussed, but a genuine phenomenon experienced by many of the most impressive new bands. Of course, there are many reasons why a band may disappoint with their second effort, but the most frustrating reason for all involved is ambition, which plays a great deal into the mixed results of Yeasayer's latest, Odd Blood. When the group arrived on the scene a couple years ago with the surprisingly fantastic All Hour Cymbals, they immediately proved themselves a talented and confident (also, strange) bunch, one unlikely to try the same thing twice. And so the new record is exactly what we'd expect in that regard - an album that reaches for something much greater than what preceded it no matter the consequences. And while the results of this grandiose approach occasionally impress, the results are a scattered, uneven affair.

Anyone (like me) expecting something like the band's more pop-oriented track, "Tightrope," from last year's Dark Was the Night compilation will immediately be confused at Odd Blood's opener, "The Children," a creepy, drippy introduction that throws away melodic sensibility for outright weirdness in its garbled vocals and eerie instrumentation. Fortunately, the boys rebound with the album's two strongest cuts, the single "Ambling Alp" and the equally accessible "Madder Red," which show a sharper, more direct side to the group than we heard on All Hour Cymbals. Their expansive, polished new sound works well here while maintaining a familiarly distinctive edge, but things get mixed quickly thereafter. Most of the remaining tracks aren't complete misfires, but still feel like missed opportunities. This is especially true of the soaring ballad "I Remember" and the driving "Mondegreen," which squander interesting stylistic concepts with similarly lame lovemaking-themed lyrics and ultimately bland execution. A few genuinely enjoyable moments crop up along the way, but Odd Blood's ten tracks never attain a real momentum or consistency.

So it's hard to fault a band for their need to explore and expand, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that Odd Blood doesn't pack nearly the same punch that Yeasayer's debut surely did. Ambition is admirable, and I imagine it will ultimately serve this young band very well as it does occasionally here, but they're going to need to harness their talent and ideas to make them truly effective the next time around.