Yeasayer at the Crystal Ballroom, August 31, 2012
In all honesty, the fans were wrong: Daughn Gibson doesn't sound like Crash Test Dummies. He also doesn't sound quite like the National. Instead, the former drug-rock artist is a sophisticated collage artist, one who prefers unlikely merges—namely, R&B with twang.
Yes, he sings from the depths below. There's no denying Gibson's baritone. He sings in a register that inspires either sleep or deep thought. His approach has been described as "dream-country," but that's merely a sound byte of what Sub-Pop's newest signing is actually doing to music.
Friday evening, Gibson earned some hard critics. There are those who appreciate careful sampling and those who find it stagnant, lazy even. A careful merge of wildly different soundscapes can be a beautiful thing, and Gibson offered glimpses of that beauty. His soft-spoken blends of whispered vocals and resonating guitar loops went on and on, in infinite fashion. If Yeasayer was the outspoken brother, Daughn Gibson was the poetic introvert, bashfully paving the way for its assertive counterpart.
Yeasayer has grown some. I have seen them graduate from the Aladdin to the Wonder and finally to the Crystal over the course of three years. Likewise, the Brooklyn band's records have gone from long-winded and experimental to hip to incredibly catchy. Yes, they've adapted to a growing crowd. No, they've not given up.
While simpler than its predecessors, Fragrant World, the band's new album, is a solid representation of today's impatient populus. The record is jumpy, bouncing from electro-bip to electro-bop like a mechanical kangaroo, pausing a little to allow the listeners to catch up. What's fascinating and appropriate about Yeasayer is that it has embodied contemporary culture for several years. The band epitomizes Now: bubbling, let-loose, dumb downed, polished enough, forward-looking and still, mystifying.
Yes, "ONE" is a disco jam and "Madder Red" is an endlessly ringing swell set for a cult celebration. Still, Yeasayer live reminds the listener that big beats and psych-inspired noodling can coexist. When the band first began, it listed its sound as "Enya with bounce." It was a surprisingly accurate tagline that still resonates today. The band's display in Portland was a combination of zest and simplicity, something I'd normally disregard as half-hearted, but I truly respect it here, because it's coming from a band that hit so hard in its infancy.
Yeasayer may never again match the many layers embedded in its first album, All Hour Cymbals. But it's comforting to know a band that peaked so early is still up to its sophisticated norms. Some people abandon a band for evolving too much. Others disregard a band that doesn't change at all. But the main reason I like Yeasayer is that they've served as a proper mirror throughout, reflecting its listeners via the sounds they've grown accustomed to. "Henrietta" is by no means original, but it's appropriate, a perfect example of the band's savvy. Popular independent music has become popular electronic music and vice-versa. Yet, Yeasayer does it wiith style, with Chris Keating providing inventive guitar work and Anand Wilder commanding dials and effects stage center.
In Portland, amidst bigger beats and catchier riffs, Yeasayer proved more than relevancy. It proved, through gummy, heady dance-rock, that sitting still is boring and it's much more fun, for the listener and the band, to keep trying on different ideas, even if they're not new.