Coming across an album comprised of songs ranging from outstanding to terrible is a frequent enough occurrence to render this sentence almost completely redundant. Sometimes though, it seems like bands actually go to the trouble of perfectly bisecting an album between the fantastic half and the disposable half just for the listener. It’s as if said hypothetical, placeholder band is fully aware of the lackluster nature of half of their work, and placed the dross on the back end of an album for easy demarcation and the listener’s convenience.
Yeasayer’s Odd Blood is such an album, and I say this as a fan. Check my iTunes play count for the album (go ahead, check it) and you’ll see the first five songs are all in the double digits, followed by a precipitous drop-off at track six that plateaus at ground level through to the album’s conclusion. And it should be said, I don’t just enjoy Odd Blood’s side A, I fucking love it. Seriously. “Madder Red” is gloriously overwrought, finding the meeting ground between the gypsy leanings of the band’s debut (All Hour Cymbals) with a more apparent devotion to the melodrama of ‘80s era balladry. “I Remember” is a dreamy, shimmering, colorful, unabashedly romantic testimonial that may be the finest argument for Animal Collective’s influence on the American music scene as a positive. I even have fondness for “The Children,” as much as the goofy vocal effects are basically telling the listener that the song is not meant to be taken seriously. I haven’t even mentioned “O.N.E,” which picks up Peter Gabriel’s pop-as-world-community ethos and runs with it to great success.
And this is where Odd Blood first hits the skids. The beginning of “Love Me Girl” is intriguing, rollicking along as though something big and memorable is in the offing. Yet the drab, stuttering, sniveling section (the chorus? The verse? It’s impossible to tell) that ends up defining the song ruins the momentum and goodwill built up by the introduction. “Strange Reunions” and “Grizelda” both suffer from a bizarre formlessness, forcing singer Chris Keating to haplessly attempt tacking a melody onto an amorphous collection of noises. “Rome” bounces along amiably, but all of its tricks have been thoroughly displayed before the song is a fourth of the way through, leaving three minutes of unnecessary repetition.
Then there’s “Mondegreen,” easily the most egregious offender on Odd Blood. It’s as repetitive as “Rome” and marked by the lamest lyrics you’re likely to hear this year. You may have even read a few reviewers mocking it and effectively beating me to the punch, but frankly, that’s not going to stop me. “Mondegreen” features the oft-repeated and derided line, “Everybody’s talking about me and my baby makin’ love ‘til the morning light”. For some reason, this line fascinates me. When Keating says “everybody,” does he truly mean everybody? Is it a more familiar “everybody,” possibly just referring to his close friends? Or is it broader than that? Perhaps “everybody” includes acquaintances. If one of the latter two instances is true, then Keating sure has some invasive friends. Or maybe it is literal. Maybe everybody is discussing Keating and his girlfriend making love. I personally can’t think of anything else to talk about.
But this is getting a little mean-spirited, so I’ll just return to my original, marginally less mean-spirited point; the back half of Odd Blood is a stunning drop in quality from the first half. Yet I keep checking back. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m hoping that there’s some mysterious magic to the second half that I just haven’t caught yet, but the results have not changed yet, and I doubt they will. Or maybe I’m just fascinated by it, as though there is some method to what Yeasayer has done here. After all, this album ostensibly covers the spectrum of their abilities.
Perhaps Odd Blood is meant as a template for their future work, a systematic guideline for what clearly works for them, and what clearly doesn’t. Or I’m putting too much thought into this. Either way, I’m wondering whether anyone else has had experiences like this. Are there albums that start off promising and you can clearly mark the point where it all goes to hell? Are there albums with extended sections that you can clearly tell you don’t enjoy, yet you keep listening to them for reasons you can’t fully explain?