Yeasayer, Heaven, London
Thursday 25 February 2010
Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Yeasayer have all ducked under the hype around their Brooklyn scene, by releasing second albums bearing slim resemblance to their first. Yeasayer especially are the quintessential American underground pop band, operating in a parallel reality to the commercial needs that define UK "indie" careers. If their new album of mostly damaged electro-pop, Odd Blood, sells a few less copies than All Hour Cymbals' murky psychedelic folk, they'll march on unperturbed.
Heaven, a usually gay dance club underneath railway arches by the Thames, suits Yeasayer's reinvention. Only guitarist and co-vocalist Anand Wilder's harlequin commando get-up retains their old hippieish style. Singer Chris Keating, with camply melodramatic movements and a voice switching between a grated vocoder croon and outrageous treated falsetto, resembles instead Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears on downers, fronting Depeche Mode. There are times when he's more like Shears stumbling on stage to harmonise with Crosby, Stills and Nash. And on "Rome", his echoing, impish scream is the Prince of "Let's Go Crazy".
From the hazy opening of "The Children", which sounds like a needle being swiped across an old synth-pop tune, to the snatch of Phil Collins's iconic "In the Air Tonight" syn-drums on "Madder Red", Yeasayer's new interests are evident. Wilder barely picks up his guitar, and leaves it inextricable from sequenced beats. The phased, bucolic Californian folk-rock of the new album's "Strange Reunions" is a thread of continuity. So is All Hour Cymbals' "Wait for the Summer". Gentle Laurel Canyon harmonies here end in a Donna Summer disco shriek: a natural, radical genetic splice.
The brand new "One" shows the direction they're pushing. Beginning as the sort of house familiar here in Heaven, it transmutes into immaculate, ecstatic yearning pop. Sad nostalgia is in the words "Hold me as you used to", but the voice keeps rising, and the beat keeps on. It's disco's version of a redemption blues. "Ambling Alp" is a contrasting pop high, sending hands in the air.
Watching Keating intently twist dials on stage, Yeasayer resemble electronica idealists such as Four Tet's Kieran Hebden. They're a rare example of open-minded listening not just being name-checked by a band, but rippling through an ear-opening sound. They communicate the joy of intelligent music.
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