Do I hate this record? Would I play it with windows down and “normal” people within earshot? Is this just the latest in a long line of post-Pitchfork flavor-of-the-month bands? Who cares. The real question is this: Does not liking a record like Yeasayer’s Odd Blood mean that I’m losing my edge? Having just turned 30, I’ve found myself obsessively asking this question about almost everything. Does the fact that I don’t like Coconut M&Ms – or the reality that “Breaking Bad” makes me feel nauseated with anxiety – mean that I’m not changing with the times? Am I becoming what I’ve always feared: the “Better In My Day”/“All Been Done” guy? Is my palate not as endlessly open to new things as I’ve always claimed?
No way. I’m not losing it, I’m just selective. I mean, I loved last year’s Animal Collective and Dirty Projector records and cite Joanna Newsom’s Ys as one of the best records of the new century. I might not be covered in tattoos, but I’ve always laughed at the Johnny-come-lately kids who fall victim to awful hip-hop and electronic music fads. I don’t collect goofy sunglasses and didn’t wear the “Buddy Holly specs” (as we called them in 1994) after the first Weezer record came out. Hmm … maybe that’s why I think Odd Blood is one of the ugliest looking records I’ve ever seen. And maybe the fact that I listen to music on an actual stereo and not an iPhone has something to do with why I think Odd Blood is so laughably experimental and unfocused. Experimental to a fault, even. Or maybe I’m just too old to matter.
Let’s start with the vocals and vocal treatments, which are often awful. Opener “The Children” finds singers Chris Keating and Anand Wilder’s vocals so drenched in effects that the song has no real personality – a shame, considering how interesting the loopy arrangement is. Track two, “Ambling Alp,” again features heavily treated vocals over an otherworldly arrangement. These are the vocals of someone who takes what they’re doing very seriously, which is often the worst trait for someone attempting to make groundbreaking art. And I’m not talking James Murphy when I say “serious;” I’m talking Chris Martin. Kanye, even. It’s all a shame, really, considering how good the melodies often are and how interesting some of the accompaniments can be.
Anyone who heard and loved Yeasayer’s 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals, was surely looking forward to the flawed Odd Blood. And while many of the hallmarks are still here, including the whole “future tribal” vibe, Blood is the sound of a band working incredibly hard but never quite finding their focus. Instead of building on their sound, these psychedelic Brooklynites attempt to reinvent themselves through experimentation, even claiming that, while experimenting with LSD in New Zealand, they decided to make a poppier record.
Back to that “experimental to a fault” thing. The 22-year-old version of me would never say such a thing. But when I listen to Odd Blood, I hear great, great things. The ideas are here, but damn if they’re not lost in the mud of the band’s everything-at-once approach. The easiest reference for the record’s sound would be Animal Collective’s Feels, the difference being that Animal Collective would never be caught dead with such cheesy vocals. Another reference would be Odd Nosdam’s solo records and the earliest Why? records Nosdam worked on with Yoni Wolf – back before that band got all indie rock on us. Or how about mid-era Talking Heads if they were even more wimpy and over-produced?
My hunch is that if you are a person who likes modern indie records and plays music yourself, Odd Blood might blow your mind. It might even influence you. But it’s also my opinion that, even if you are this rare person who loves Odd Blood for its wild ideas and deep production, you won’t hold the high opinion in, say, a year. In fact, I don’t think anyone will love this record for very long. Like it? Sure. Be influenced by it? Some. Have your mind blown by the production and creativity found throughout the record’s 40 minutes? Many, including this writer. But put Odd Blood on, turn it up and love what’s coming out of the speakers? Nah. Not likely. Not after the initial impression is established.
All that said, this is one of the most listenable and interesting global trip-hop records ever made. That counts for something.