Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yeasayer and Sleigh Bells – May 2 at Le National

Sleigh Bells
The latest Brooklyn-based noise-crunk-whatever band borrows equally from out-there hip-hop as they do from 80s arena metal, so when some of their simple, boombastic beats reminded me of early Dizzee Rascal, it seemed only fitting that the London MC's first single sampled a song called "The Big Beat". Song after song, this is just what the duo gives you, adding epic guitar slides and riffage to the sound of their new friend M.I.A. with an ever-changing display of vocalist Alexis Krauss's throat contortions, from her mom-friendly head voice to long, piercing releases inspired by kids slowly letting air out of a balloon.

Guitarist and songwriter Derek Miller's time with hardcore Poison The Well makes him no stranger to hugely distorted lead guitar, and the power coming through on the string side of things sometimes reminded me of Jack White fighting for soaring leads through shitty gear – except Miller has a fully-functional Marshall stack behind him. There were a few moments when their fully-formed wall of sound was a little much, and tracks like "Crown On The Ground" could have benefited from the clarity their lighter fare offers. It'll be interesting to hear what they choose to explore on their 'real' recordings.

"They're really good at their machines," a friend of mine said when I asked what she thought of Yeasayer's set Sunday night. It's true, and it's also why I prefer All Hour Cymbals to ODD BLOOD. Both albums create the band's worldly psychedelic pop, though their debut is decidedly more human, whereas their video-prone second album finds the band letting the electronics doing more of the feeling – and, judging by the Animal Collective-esque light set-up, seeing – for them. (The decision to have the robot voice on "The Children" open ODD BLOOD and their live set could be a reminder that Yeasayer's heads are always in the future – see "2080" – for me it only served to make the natural harmonies that come in part way through the song all the more rewarding.) Their dependence on tools isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it may have something to do with their debut still sounding fresher than their sophomore LP.

This may also be a function of the band letting more their songs comfortably seep into the background, whereas the Yeasayer of 2007 came to the fore and stayed put. Live, this results in more a subdued experience, though I would say that they're stronger when they play to their extremes – whether that's the sing-and-dance-along singles ("O.N.E." and "Ambling Alp") or the beatless "I Remember" – as opposed to wading somewhere in between.

Bassist Ira Wolf Tuton (whose loose-fitting tank had a tough time keeping his nipples concealed) also provided a good example of the human-machine dynamic the band seems to be straddling on Sunday night. Toward the end of the show, when his nimble near-shredding became the main attraction for a few bars, the notes sounded like they were coming more from a flute than the fretless F-hole bass he was actually playing. While his effects pedals warped his sound, he was still conscious of the crowd surfers not falling to the crowd, and thanked the crowd for keeping the people safe.