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Yeasayer pushes into new weird pop 

Wednesday, Apr 14 2010

Yeasayer's vocalist/keyboardist Chris Keating and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton are huddled up in their tour van, within spitting distance of their Brooklyn waterfront practice space. After reading yet another recent magazine article trying to define their hood's musical zeitgeist (one that folds them together with Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and MGMT), the two feel that the point is still being missed. "These articles talk about music being made in the same place by people who they perceive as being a giant group of buddies," Keating laments. "Everyone is embracing pop structure but also trying to shake it up [without] pressure to conform." Of the bunch, Yeasayer not only gives pop the biggest hug, but also shakes it down to its very foundations.

Nowhere is that love more evident than on the group's latest album, Odd Blood. Despite the breakout success of 2007's All Hour Cymbals, which led to the band opening for MGMT and gracing Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Yeasayer wanted to get bigger. "On the new record, I thought about my favorite stuff: Portishead, dancehall, Vybz Kartel," Keating says. He inspired his bandmates to create pop while pushing "every sound into a weird direction."

With that as Yeasayer's modus operandi, the band encamped in early 2009 at an upstate New York studio owned by drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears). "We just kept discovering gold and platinum records throughout the house," Tuton says of the "kids in a candy store" recording experience. "In the basement, Jerry had all his old '70s and '80s gear, great Prophecy synths, all his drums and mikes." The band then proceeded to tweak everything to extremes. Keating describes songwriting for the album as akin to "building a house and knocking it down over and over again until it's the right house."

Yeasayer made the right dwelling in the end. Marotta's previous employers rubbed off on Yeasayer, whose members evidently love the '80s even more than Hot Tub Time Machine. Check the shameless, soaring pop of the band's latest single, "O.N.E.," which has enough synth drums and club throb behind guitarist/vocalist Anand Wilder to evoke fond memories of New Order or Pet Shop Boys. The crybaby vocals that Keating uses to plea, "Stay up in bed with me/Stay up and play with me" on "Love Me Girl" stake out a middle ground amidst Lindsey Buckingham, Justin Timberlake, and sunny Balearic house, while "I Remember" treads into power-ballad territory. The band still keeps its art cred intact, though, with opener "The Children" sounding as eerie as the Residents. Weird ambience wafts up throughout the album — rousing first single "Ambling Alp" takes a detour through alien vox.

Live, the group plays up its nü-romantic edge. Backlit by glowing scrims showing Yeasayer hammering on synth pads, with Keating wrapped in a sharp sports jacket and sculpted poses, the group could be opening for Duran Duran circa "The Reflex." Yeasayer sounds like the freshest iteration of the Brooklyn sound yet, though. It's bright but bizarre, sincere yet inscrutable. That's in part because these are musicians into Ne-Yo and Suicide and Beyoncé and Jamaican music. Keating surmises that as a musicmaker, "it's about all that culture coming to an apex and how can you put it together." In Yeasayer's hands, these disparate combinations make perfect pop sense.

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Andy Beta

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