In the same way that MGMT swapped their popular alternative dance style for a more psychedelic one, Yeasayer have done the exact opposite with their second album, Odd Blood. As far as why goes, that could be anybody's guess. Perhaps it was being lumped in with indie psychedelic acts like Animal Collective and Panda Bear, and the band was resisting being pigeonholed. Maybe vocalist Chris Keating was inspired by his guest spot on Simian Mobile Disco's Audacity of Huge single from last year, and a more dance friendly sound appealed to him more. Whatever the case, the psychedelic atmosphere and world music stylings are largely gone on Odd Blood, and in their stead are, for better and for worse, bright and melodic indie pop.
It may seem like this review is ultimately going to be praising atmosphere and depth over catchy melodies, and chastising Yeasayer for dropping the former in exchange for the latter, but that's really not the case. Well, not quite. One of the great things about All Hour Cymbals was the fearless exploration of spacey psychedelia, with tastefully applied eastern influence and great melodies (albeit buried, but present nonetheless). Here, the melodies take the forefront, with minimal interest in keeping the atmosphere busy, or even an attempt to keep the song compelling beyond the main hook. Again, this is not to say that atmosphere is more important than hooks, because it really isn't. But not everybody is going to be equally proficient with each, and this sadly applies to Yeasayer.
To be fair, of the songs that fully embrace the alternative dance sound (excluding opener The Children, which is the only track that is really able to grasp the best of both worlds), quite a few hit the mark. Lead single Ambling Alp is extremely charming, with great layering backing up the dirty synth hook, and O.N.E. is flat out addicting, boasting outstanding melodies and a bright, hopeful disposition. These are both wonderful tracks, but the remaining songs largely sink in mediocrity. Madder Red is a complete throwaway track, with such a boring melody that it feels as if it's meandering when the song structure is actually fairly tight, and the mismatched harmonization does not help its cause, either. Rome and Mondegreen sound like desperate attempts to inflame with sexual energy, though both fall woefully flat, and are at times awkward (Rome in particular sounds like a Fine Young Cannibals B-side, no joke). I Remember and Strange Reunions are decent, but they're only better than the album's low points; they pale against any of the better songs released by other indie acts this year.
Odd Blood isn't a bad album, but it isn't really good either. It's not annoying, but it's not memorable - in fact, it's scarcely memorable in anyway whatsoever. It illicits very little reaction at all, which is arguably just as bad as bad. With the skill that we know the band to have, it makes this album all the more frustrating. It's very possible for psychedelia and pop (even dance) to coexist, just as it's possible to perform each separately, with equal ability, but Yeasayer hasn't quite developed this potential just yet. It's admirable that they're so willing to shift from genre to genre, and it should always be encouraged to try new things, but Odd Blood finds Yeasayer playing to very few of their strengths.