Week Late Review: Yeasayer

Brooklyn's Yeasayer, the latest blog sensations.

A week ago I went down to the Black Cat to review the very sold out Yeasayer show. You didn't see the review in the paper because it never made it to the paper. Casualty of limited space, at least that's what the Powers That Be said. [No, we just dislike Malitz - Ed.] But it makes more sense that a Yeasayer review shows up on the blog, since they are one of the bloggiest bands around right now. Review below, with a few more thoughts after the conclusion.

Self-described "Middle Eastern-psych-pop-snap-gospel" quartet Yeasayer played to a packed house Wednesday night at the Black Cat's Backstage. So many people missed out on tickets that some local bloggers started an online petition to have the show moved to the club's more spacious upstairs performance area. (The show stayed put; a quick return engagement in the spring was the compromise.)

Less than four months ago, the same band played the same venue and about 40 people showed up. What happened since then?

Buzz, of course. The Brooklyn group became Internet darlings, receiving raves from influential tastemakers like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan, not to mention every college kid with an MP3 blog. Yeasayer is also a purveyor of the current "it" sound, a rhythmic fusion of world beats with indie rock sensibilities that has propelled bands like Vampire Weekend and Beirut to similar success.

Was all the hype justified? (Is it ever?)

Yeasayer played with great enthusiasm throughout its 40-minute set, but the musical results didn't always match the band's members' zeal. The best moments were borderline transcendent -- "2080" was an intoxicating mixture of multi-part vocal harmonies, rumbling drums and atmospheric whooshes. Singer Chris Keating set a bleak scene during the verses ("I can't sleep when I think about the times we're living in/ I can't sleep when I think about the future I was born into") before finding some hope in the chorus ("It's a new year/ I'm glad to be here/ It's a fresh spring/ So let's sing"). This lyrical theme of optimism in the face of a desolate future was a common one.

Most other songs worked with the same template but just missed the mark. The polyrhythmic backbeat and uplifting chants sounded fine, but there was rarely anything meaty enough to grab hold of. These slippery songs don't scream for big hooks, but the world music experiments of Talking Heads and Paul Simon -- clear influences on Yeasayer -- were successful because the artists were able to marry pop conventions to exotic sounds.

At this point, Yeasayer owns its sound but is still in search of the songs do it justice. When it finds them, watch out.

--David Malitz

As you can see, I wasn't exactly "blown away," to use the most horribly worn-out phrase that has crept into the blog lexicon. It was the third time in six months that I saw the band and I thought the same thing on each occasion: neat sound, when they're on they're on, but it mostly blurs together in some neo-hippie-indie-jam-band thing. I do worry about the shelf-life of these blog-championed bands, though. Most of what needs to be said on that topic was done so by (new TWP freelancer) Jess Harvell over at Idolator, so take a few minutes to read up on that.

My view is that the instant and overwhelming hype - and Yeasayer is more deserving than plenty - just further commodifies these bands. It becomes less about the music and more about the race to proclaim a new band as the greatest thing ever. That's not to say that the people at the Black Cat a week ago weren't legitimately into Yeasayer's music. But it was easy to get the feeling they were just as into being some of the first on the bandwagon. That's why I had to laugh a bit when the band said it would be coming back to town in a few months on the mainstage, to make up for the fact that so many people missed out on tickets this time around. By April Yeasayer might be riding an even bigger surge of momentum. But they might also be ancient history.

By David Malitz |  January 23, 2008; 12:51 PM ET Live Last Night
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great album by yeasayer, but i'm not sure i would lump them, beirut, and vampire weekend together as sharing some current "it" sound

(1) is world music really the current "it" sound like the garage rock revival of the early aughts or the new wave revival of a few years ago? doesn't really seem like it, i don't think any single "sound" is spawning buzz bands right now ... also, the three bands you mentioned are part of totally different "buzz cycles" (especially beirut, which was white-hot like two years ago, right?)

(2) they have completely different sounds -- yeasayer is much more experimental than the other two groups and leans more towards the animal collective part of the indie spectrum ... beirut always struck me as a complete (but still awesome) devotchka knockoff, while vampire weekend has a total straight-forward pop sound

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | January 24, 2008 4:46 PM

Good points, Hoya, thanks for chiming in. The bands definitely have different sounds, as you point out, but the main thing is that they are all looking outside the usual realm of punk/post-punk/indie rock influences. The end results are different, but I think they are all consciously trying to stay away from straight-up electric guitar-centered rock in favor of something a little more worldly.

And yeah, Beirut was certainly "hot" well before Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend were on most radars. Still, a couple years ago it was all blogs and now I think they have made it to, like, Entertainment Weekly level, so it's renewed. Or something.

I think it makes the little emerging "scene" more interesting that they don't all sound exactly alike, unlike most of those garage then new wave knockoffs who were almost impossible to tell apart. Except for the Bravery, who were much worse than everyone.

Posted by: David | January 24, 2008 5:18 PM

Since when has the "music" been a selling point for bands?

If press is tweaking about a band, usually someone is tweaking the press.

Posted by: Tesco Knee | January 25, 2008 12:59 PM

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