I like surprises. Well, good ones at least. Without question, Yeasayer’s playing at Spring Weekend was a good surprise. Due to contract negotiations, Yeasayer was announced after the initial release of the Spring Weekend’s lineup — but if one name had to be announced late, this was the one to pick. The addition of Yeasayer to the existing lineup of What Cheer? Brigade, Waka Flocka Flame, and Hudson Mohawke injected some much-needed rock(ish) to Friday night. At least one former BlogDH writer/semi-professional flogger would have been very pleased. The concert really has something for everybody now.
But Yeasayer’s presence in the Spring Weekend lineup represents much more than a simple filler designed to check the box of something-resembling-a-rock-band on some fictional list of Spring Weekend artist requirements. The Brooklyn-based band, which formed in 2006, has constantly pushed the boundaries of genre — they once described themselves as “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel;” Pitchfork calls them “art-pop,” but I’m not sure anyone knows what that is besides a thoroughly mediocre Lady Gaga album. Their songs range from this out-of-left field cover of Seal’s “Crazy” to the more radio-friendly “O.N.E.” of FIFA ’11 fame.
The quartet of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton, Anand Wilder, and Cale Parks delivers a unique sound that will get you dancing without delivering bass so heavy that you think you’re having a heart attack. Basically, they’re the anti-Brick Squad.
The band released their debut record, All Hour Cymbals, in 2007. It includes the singles “Sunrise” and “Wait for the Summer.” “Sunrise” begins with an epic harmony and builds into what I only can assume is the narration of a very whimsical acid trip: “The sky cracked a million ways, making me blind/And as the trees grew higher and higher/And the fish began to fly/I went and stole some wings/And thought why can’t I get in the sunrise.” (Flying fish sound so fun! Yeasayer better bring some to the Main Green.) The psychedelic feel of “Sunrise,” which it owes in part to the band’s use of instruments and musical forms from all over the world — is typical of All Hour Cymbals.
Yeasayer’s sophomore record, 2010’s Odd Blood, is probably their most famous work. Three singles off the album, “Ambling Alp,” “O.N.E.” and “Madder Red,” all got significant mainstream radio play that year (and basically became the soundtrack to the summer after my junior year of high school). In stark contrast with “2080” from All Hour Cymbals, their lyrics here tend toward the upbeat and poetic. On “Ambling Alp,” frontman Chris Keating tells listeners to “Stick up for yourself, son/never mind what anybody else [has] done.” If that wasn’t enough, the song’s second verse is a reference to boxer Joe Louis’s victory in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
Keating himself has been outspoken on fellow musicians. In a 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, he declared his love for Frank Ocean and absolute contempt for R. Kelly:
I think he [Ocean] is a good new face for the R&B world right now, to kind of usher out – no pun intended – some of these folks. Because, let’s get real, R.Kelly is a terrible person. I like R.Kelly and how crazy he is, but he’s a terrible piece of shit, a horrible person, really bad all around. Let’s get rid of him. Let’s gay it up a little [in R&B].
He also deposited his grandmother’s ashes in Newgrange, an old Druid burial site in Ireland that’s even older than Stonehenge. Basically, Chris Keating is the man.
Yeasayer has not gone radio silent since the release of Odd Blood. In 2012, they dropped Fragrant World. The album’s tracks bring a more pared-down sound than their earlier work while still delivering some healthy doses of what The Glitch Mob might call “really, really, filthy, filthy fucking bass.” Though Fragrant World has not become as prominent as Odd Blood, the album definitely has its high points, most notably “Longevity” and “Reagan’s Skeleton.”
You can expect a great show from Yeasayer on Friday night, so don’t dawdle too much at the pregame, or you just might miss them. It should be a great come-up for the madness that will be Waka Flocka and Hudson Mohawke later in the night [Ed. – Our bodies aren’t ready].