In an interview with Pitchfork in August 2008—shortly before they were to play at Terrace Club for Lawnparties—bassist Ira Wolf Tuton said that his band, Yeasayer, “always wanted to be the biggest band in the world.” This remark is a testament to just how far indie music has come in the past decade. There was a time when no indie band would ever express this sort of ambition, when to be indie was to aspire to a career in semi-popularity—in short, when “indie cred” meant something. That time has passed, though, and quite some time ago. Some especially grouchy fans objected when Modest Mouse went mainstream with _Good News for People Who Love Bad News_, which perhaps represents the first major indie crossover album, but since then such complaints have almost disappeared. No one raised an eyebrow when, for instance, Of Montreal licensed one of their songs for an Outback Steakhouse commercial, and people were actually quite charmed when Animal Collective and Dan Deacon made similar deals with Crayola. “Selling out,” once considered the death knell of an indie band, is now almost a right of passage.
This sort of climate is perfect for Yeasayer, who added, in the same interview, that they would sign with a major label in a heartbeat. They are not interested in being semi-popular, in playing small shows for their small fanbase and generally having a small career. They want the world. And, as the recent success of Vampire Weekend’s _Contra_ proves, the time is ripe for indie bands to break into the mainstream. The only thing more remarkable than Contra reaching “No. 1” was the fact that it did not seem all that remarkable—it actually seemed somehow inevitable. And although Vampire Weekend’s stay on Billboard’s Top Ten list was brief, they still managed to give the world some evidence to suggest that the rift between indie and mainstream may be about to cave in on itself, and that indie music, which has been crashing the party for a while now, will overrun the mainstream once and for all. That Yeasayer wants to be the band to do this is clear enough—and that already counts for something. Whether or not they are is not yet clear, but Odd Blood, their new album, suggests that they might have it in them.
_Odd Blood_ is tremendously different from Yeasayer’s 2007 debut, _All Hour Cymbals_, which in itself is a good sign: it speaks to their ambition that they are not satisfied doing the same thing twice. And they easily could have, because their sound on _All Hour Cymbals_ was so original and so cohesive. But that wouldn’t have been enough for them—they abandoned the earthy, organic feel of their first album for virtually the polar opposite. The album’s cover art is a decent visual approximation of its sound: it is a photograph of a human face, covered over with a metallic, rainbow-colored CGI surface. The computer-generated embellishments, which also include vein-like tendrils, extend upward and downward to cover the figure’s face and chest. The growths covering the figure are unmistakably digital, but in places they still look somehow quite physical, if completely unnatural—like polyurethane foam. Just so, the album’s sound is a brilliant fusion of digital and physical. This marriage is nothing new—it has been around for decades, although it may not have entered the rock idiom until Radiohead’s _Kid A_. Yeasayer, however, do it in a way that may be largely unprecedented—that is, in the style of a band that wants to be the biggest band in the world. In terms of song quality the album is a bit uneven and, as some reviews have already noted, rather front-loaded. But even the weaker songs have the sort of exuberantly goofy energy that only an unabashed pop group could muster. _Odd Blood_ does not sound like Animal Collective or Dan Deacon, for whom exuberance is an artistic statement often tempered with a lining of melancholy. Yeasayer have no artistic statement other than to make really catchy pop music, and their exuberance sounds more like the excitement of three kids with a houseful of new toys.
This excitement, however, did not keep them from writing some killer songs in which the dense production and the music work synergistically, often to admirable effect. The first track, “The Children,” finds singer Chris Keating’s voice as thoroughly encased in digital effects as is the poor fellow on the cover. The space-alien effect might have sounded corny, or just bad, on another song, but here it works. “The Children” is a slow ballad with a halting, syncopated rhythm, and the buzzing vocals contribute to the song’s oozy feeling. It leads into the lead single, “Ambling Alp,” an inspirational sing-along anthem that demonstrates beyond any doubt just how poppy Yeasayer are trying to be. Then there is “Madder Red,” whose falsetto intro is the album’s catchiest hook. Other standouts include “O.N.E.,” the second single, and the trance-rip “Love Me Girl.” There is a sort of magical moment about two-thirds of the way through “Madder Red.” As much as they strive for mainstream recognition, Yeasayer are still firmly rooted to the Brooklyn indie scene that produced them, and for the most part their album is as well. For a brief moment in “Madder Red,” though, you can almost believe that you are, in fact, listening to a mainstream guitar band, maybe Oasis. This is a good thing. It doesn’t sound like Yeasayer have crossed over; it sounds like the line between indie and mainstream has vanished.
_Odd Blood_ is not as good an album as it could have been, but it is a step in the right direction for Yeasayer in terms of both music and recognition. The album’s reception, interestingly enough, seems to reflect Yeasayer’s ambitions quite well: it has received most of its highest praise from the mainstream press. _Rolling Stone_ gave it a very positive review, as did _The Guardian_ and _Spin_ (which is, by now, a mainstream magazine). MTV even went so far as to suggest that they might be “this year’s Animal Collective.” Pitchfork, in contrast, praised them much more sparingly. This all shows that Yeasayer are well on the way to becoming the next great indie cross- overs—after all, they have already made two killer singles. What they need now is to pare down the sonic excess that _Odd Blood_’s cover art expressed so perfectly, and find once again the sort of integrated sound that made _All Hour Cymbals_ such an auspicious debut. _All Hour Cymbals_ and _Odd Blood_ are both very good albums, but Yeasayer will not be great until they bring the two together. Let’s hope they pull that off next time around.