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Experimental rock band Yeasayer produces catchy pop in ‘Erotic Reruns’

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, July 17, 2019  /  06:45 pm
Experimental rock band Yeasayer produces catchy pop in ‘Erotic Reruns’

Pop twist: Experimental rock group Yeasayer goes for the gut with its latest record. (Courtesy of Yeasayer/-)

Arguably the most pop-sounding album of its career, Yeasayer's fifth album Erotic Reruns finds the US experimental rock band honing in on the most melodic and dance-like tendencies of its repertoire. 

At an economical nine songs, and a runtime of barely a half-hour, the album feels brisk and focused with inventive electronic flourishes, retro-futurist beats and eclectic R&B-style vocalizing.

Likely a conscious approach to define its stand on things, the album is also the band's most direct lyrically. The amalgamation between the (almost) straightforward lyrics and simplicity in the music makes this Yeasayer's most economical and no-holds-barred release yet.

And yet, it gives a layer of surprising emotional complexity in a record that sounds joyful but in truth is sorrowful at heart.

Equally focused on the US political landscape as well as introspective themes, the album is often quiet while also getting its point across. “Why was I was so hard on the people I loved?/Instead of cutting you off and rollin' my eyes/I could've praised your work, could've feigned surprise”, vocalist-guitarist Anand Wilder sings in the opening track “The People I Love”, offering a self-aware form of personal regret that isn't hard to recognize.

Conscious approach: Yeasayer’s new album Conscious approach: Yeasayer’s new album "Erotic Reruns" is also the band's most direct lyrically. (Courtesy of Yeasayer/-)

On the other end of the spectrum is “Crack A Smile”, where it's not difficult to figure out who is supposed to be on the receiving end as vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Keating sings, “I've been low down/'Cause, baby, you got all that power now/All your tantrums of misrule/Reveal the nature of the fool”.

He gets even more direct over the cracks of feigned fundamentalism, singing “Say that your miracles are divine/ I can see evil in your eyes/ The manifestation of something I despise...Can't believe you're at the helm/ The psycho captain of this fading realm”. The music, never ceasing in its pulsating electro buzz and falsetto, refrains with “You're a liar”.

At times, it seems like the two themes – the political and the personal – are intertwined, making it clear how connected they are.

“Blue Sky Dandelion” seems to reference former FBI director James Comey in its lyrics “James says he never saw you laugh/Just your disturbing autograph”, in connection to Comey's claim that he's never seen the American president smile.

As it moves, the song's sentiment grows into either a reflective offering of true sympathy or an ironic, bitter one. “There must be something I can do/ I wish I could make you less lonely/Or build a pyramid to die in... I know its hard growing up on top/ Torment innocent animals...I don’t deserve to breathe the same air/You really look so small up there”, suggests someone's inherent (and mortal) loneliness.

With the lyrical palette being so filled with these types of unswerving proclamations, it's easy to forget about the music, which even in its straightforward pomp retains the trio's (Keating and Wilder together with bassist-multi-instrumentalist Ira Wolf Tuton) layered sense of arrangements.

Fitting to its title, the track “24-Hour Hateful Live!” mentions names such as Joseph Goebbels, Sarah Sanders, Stephen Miller, as well as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Islamic State group and the so-called “migrant crisis”. The exhaustion that comes with life in a hateful political landscape is felt with the lyrics of the refrain, “I'm so distressed, nerve so shaken...I'm hoping for a settled score/I'm sad and bored of this hateful live”.

All of those things are sung atop a funky indie-dance track that evokes emotive bedlam through its strikingly busy and fluid bassline, electronic blips and programmed horns. It's a song that connects music and lyrics in an explosively cerebral way.

The psychedelic breeze of “Let Me Listen In On You” offers hazy pianos and texture in its sonic zephyr, sounding like the best of 70s experimental pop.

While the percussive electro lurch of “Ohm Death” serves as template for Keating's R&B sway, “Ecstatic Baby” swerves immaculately in a retro Prince-like manner, complete with high harmonies and a classic-funk low end.

The final track, “Fluttering In The Floodlights”, ends the record on a hopeful and personal note. There's a sigh of simple romance here as the vocal celebrates with the words, “My, oh my, I can't keep my eyes off of her/ Shrewdly flutterin' in the floodlights”.

It's a moment of relief in an album that gets its point across through catchy songs and sharp lyricism. Though Erotic Reruns may lack an obvious standout as most Yeasayer records usually do, its honesty is something commendable and unique in the canon – a record that isn't easy to get through emotionally, even as the hooks seep you in. (ste)