When I first saw Yeasayer, it was at an outdoor music festival in Houston—-in June.
If you’re from Texas, you know how horrific this is. It was 107 degrees when the Brooklyn boys took the stage. Front man Chris Keating sweated through every article of clothing he had, making the foot around him a salty splash zone. But it all made some sort of humid sense. Yeasayer, fresh off of the hallucinatory highs of their debut All Hour Cymbals had decided to dive into the pop deep end. But, as a band who traded in fever dreams, it would have to be utterly baffling.
So it was and Odd Blood landed at the beginning of the decade, a beguiling, hypnotic, fiendishly dancable record that rode the undeniable bass groove of Ira Wolf Tuton and the dueling song-writing chops of Keating and Anand Wilder. It was as grand as it was unstable, pop mutated to some future form.
As we count down the greatest music of the 2010s, Odd Blood and its lead single “Ambling Alp” made the list. We sat down with Wilder to discuss the record and what it means to him now. So, listen to the podcast, read our thoughts on Odd Blood and “Ambling Alp” and hear why we think they’re the best of the 10s.
Yeasayer’s Odd Blood is a pop record with mutated DNA. Sticky melodies bubble up from boiling basslines and thick, rubbery percussion. The fumes this music emanates are otherworldly. They burn your eyes and the inside of your nose, but somehow your stomach grumbles with a familiar hunger.
Prior to the release of Odd Blood in 2010, my only exposure to Yeasayer’s work had been through the apocalyptic anthem “2080” from their debut, All Hour Cymbals. The track is a Fleetwood Mac-esque tune tinged with an unmistakable sense of impending doom. The sonic landscape is hazy, a capitalist black hole forming out in the distance.
The sinister undercurrents of All Hour Cymbals are dialed up by a factor of ten on Odd Blood. “Love Me Girl” is a prime example of Yeasayer’s sonic evolution on their sophomore album. Swirling synthesizers circle around thumping kick drums. Shrill bird calls and animalistic squeals pop in and out, with distorted voices chanting the track’s refrain: “Nothing is wrong, what are you scared of?” The lyrics paint vocalist Chris Keating as a paranoid lover desperately grasping onto the ragged edges of a disintegrating relationship, begging his partner, “squeeze me ‘til I can’t breathe”. It’s an ugly (and often deeply concealed) internal narrative, such that when it’s brought to the surface I feel uncomfortable after realizing how much I relate to it. Time and again on Odd Blood themes of alienation, paranoia, and destruction are weaved into memorable verses and choruses, like gristle stuck in between a couple of pearly whites (see “Madder Red”, “O.N.E.”, and “Mondegreen”).
My dad and I played this album to death in the car, but the times I felt most connected with it were with earbuds in my ears, sitting on the bus to high school. Predictably, during this time I was struggling with a host of personal insecurities. I would look into the mirror and see an acne-covered mess, a face that was morphing constantly. It was hard to love yourself in high school, but the right music could make it easier. Yeasayer revels in a sense of ugliness, uncertainty, and fear on Odd Blood while still managing to be unbearably catchy nearly 10 years later. The term “earworm” has never been more appropriate. - Bram Rickett
Wielding your distinct brand of alien synth-pop to tell a story of Italian boxing greats is one thing; transforming all of that into an empowerment anthem about sticking up for yourself (son) is a different track entirely, but if anyone can pull off such a rowdy amalgam of intents and interpretations, it would have to be the boys in Yeasayer.
Sticking the course just when you think it's going to yaw, those percolating snyth notes decorating the space just as those drum hits fill that space up with echo, there's a bit of Peter Gabriel running through such an oddball anthem, something that becomes even more apparent during the horn stabs in the bridge. Ultimately, Chris Keating's strong, confident vocals are what keeps the song together, as his conviction shines through, carrying us into one of the most unbelievably catchy, empowering, weird and relistenable songs of the decade. They neverminded what anybody else does, and they're all the better for it. -Evan Sawdey