The three members of one of Brooklyn's weirdest bands wear their eclectic influences on their sleeves. As industrial music bleeds into dancehall, and dancehall blends into hip-hop, Yeasayer's music evolves into a fusion of oddity and experimentation.
Odd Blood, Yeasayer's second album, begins with "The Children," a bizarrely creepy apocalyptic tune where Chris Keating and Anand Wilder sing through a large fan. It's not a trick they learned in the studio — the idea actually came from something a lot simpler.
"It was something I used to do when I was a little kid," says Wilder. "We would scream into a huge fan in the cafeteria, 'Auntie Em! Auntie Em!'"
Just like that, childhood fun was transformed into wild, off-the-cuff vocal riff. Wilder likes the little details that make the music slightly off-kilter: "We were like, 'If aliens were thinking of the history of pop music on the radio, what kind of music would they make?' And this is it."
In "Love Me Girl," the band fuses tribal sounds with R&B, sci-fi samples, and a build-up of strings to create one of the funkiest grooves on the album. Wilder compares it to something you might hear in Star Wars' nightclub scene. His comparison doesn't fall far from the mark. (But it also sounds a lot like a Justin Timberlake.) No song sounds similar. Wilder, Keating, and Ira Wolf Tuton grab from disparate instruments and styles.
"We're trying to do something different on every song, and some songs are soothing, some songs are dancey, some songs are kinda hypnotic and mesmerizing," says Wilder. "Other ones are really dark and maybe sound more like movie background music than a song.Maybe our album is not very cohesive, and it's all over the place, but I think I would get too bored if I was playing songs that all sounded the same on the road. We like to use a sound for one song, and that's it — it's kinda used up."
Yeasayer's debut, 2007's All Hour Cymbals, drew from music from around the globe — African guitar sounds, gospel music, krautrock, and ambient styles. This time, they wanted to appeal to a broader audience. They stayed away from music that targets a fringe, niche audience. Odd Blood is poppier, without taking away Yeasayer's identifiable sound.
A few guests will augment that sound on tour. Ahmed Gallab and Jason Trammell, who both played percussion on the album, will bring the band's pulsing tribal fever to life. Keating's college roommate (and fellow art student) Benjamin Phelan puts on an intense light show, which Wilder says might induce seizures during some of the uptempo songs. Phelan uses three columns of lights that sit under the band's keyboards and screens on the back of the stage. Like a set of strobes, the lights will flash every color of the rainbow at different speeds, depending on the song.
"The difference between a good band and a really great band is that a really great band considers all the elements of the band as a performance or art piece," says Wilder. "If you're just standing up onstage, and you're boring, and you're wearing a silly T-shirt or something, I think that's really lame. There has to be some kind of overlap between album art, the music videos, and the way the songs are produced and sound."
If Yeasayer's album art speaks for the band's image, it serves as more proof that the band's message is not straightforward or simplistic. A stony face sits on the cover of Odd Blood. Half of it blends into the background, as if it's slowly crumbling. Veins and some sort of atomic structure cover its face and neck.
The videos for "O.N.E." and "Ambling Alp" continue the theme. Both involve some strange transformation of a face. In the former, hundreds of eyeballs morph out of a man's head; in "Ambling Alp," goop people peel off their shells to reveal human heads.
"It's all one kind of unified image that you're putting out to the world, saying 'This is who we are, this is what we represent,' and it has to be cohesive," says Wilder. "It's just a matter of making it match up with the music."