There’s just something extra classy about Yeasayer. The Brooklyn artpop troupe have elicited all sorts of adjectives from enthusiastic writers and fans, and in 2010 chalked up the none-more-modern honour of ‘Most Blogged About Artist’, but all of this is mere faff and distraction compared to what they actually do. Tonight they’re at The Lexington to play a sweaty and intimate gig to showcase new material ahead of the release of their third record, Fragrant World, and the upstairs room has been enhanced by a wall of what appear to be timpani or satellite dishes. These turn out to be Clever Concave Reflective Devices for Yeasayer’s touring light show; trust this hyper-creative band, whose complex approach to music-making has won them a loyal following as well as all those excited bloggers, not to do things by halves.
Aloofness is an alien concept to Yeasayer; when singer Chris Keating isn’t shaking and beckoning to the heavens like an evangelist, he’s cuddling and patting the heads of his fans, or crawling on the floor among them. Such inclusiveness works in their favour; the love they collect from the crowd makes this a friendly setting to debut new tracks. The exceptional ‘Henrietta’ feels like an easy progression for them – a loping, dubby rhythm section overlaid with Keating’s paranoid freakout vocals and Yeasayer’s trademark trills and found-sound – but elsewhere their scattergun sound has been tightened considerably.
Fans and detractors alike both cite Yeasayer’s tendency to pile billions of influences and ideas on top of each other, and squash them down into something dense and rich – the musical equivalent of fossil fuel, if you will. With their ears pointed like receivers in 10 different directions at once, the band’s accomplished first album wove together 80s pop and soul, homespun freak-folk, globetrotting mysticism and Remain in Light-esque post-punk, yet a Promethean inventiveness made these old riches seem newly minted, and sophomore record Odd Blood continued this approach, though less cohesively.
With that in mind they seem to have decided it’s time to pick an allegiance – new songs like ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ and ‘No Bones’ reflect a love of all things disco, from the late Donna Summer’s vibrating, still-futuristic pop-ecstasy and the electro-hedonism of the Communards to a more focused, pulsing Moroder / Depeche Mode sound. Drummer Jaytram’s titanic percussion is punchier, roaming between four-to-the-floor directness and sunny, pealing Caribbean steel drums and cowbell.
They’re right to progress from the sound of their last two records, and maybe they’ve opted to hone their sound rather than spread themselves too thin, but in places it feels like the old Yeasayer alchemy is missing. The starker songs satisfy but don’t electrify, leaving you wishing for some kind of volte-face or miracle moment, for the music to pick up its own stretcher and walk (like the climactic end-hook in Odd Blood’s ‘O.N.E’ as the vocals leap surprisingly into a celebratory falsetto). But the charm and fervour of their live performance keeps up the momentum and, adrenaline-dosing the crowd frequently with interspersed favourites like ‘2080’ and the TVOTR-esque ‘Madder Red’, they remind all present what a vital force they are.
Don’t Come Close
Devil & The Deed
Folk Hero Shtick