Concert preview: Disdain for previous work inspires Yeasayer

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From the June 20, 2013 edition

Like a veteran character actor, Yeasayer is constantly adopting new guises to avoid being typecast.

Over the course of three albums, the shapeshifting Brooklyn quartet, which visits the Bluestone on Wednesday, has made a habit of confounding expectations, drastically changing up its sound with each subsequent release.

“It's kind of the trajectory I see in artists I appreciate,” guitarist Anand Wilder said in a recent phone interview. “They show a lot of disdain for their previous work, and that allows them to move on.

“I feel like we're the same way. It's like 'Oh, god, I can't believe we made [2007's] All Hour Cymbals! It's so muddy!' Then we were like, 'Oh god, I can't believe we made [2010's] Odd Blood. It's so saccharine and poppy!'”

Last year's Fragrant World, in turn, ventured into far murkier territory. Inspired by contemporary electronic music, the band ditched Odd Blood's array of anthemic, radio-friendly choruses, combining alien R&B textures with lyrics that touched on death (“Longevity”), relationship-driven anxieties (“Blue Paper”) and the afterlife (“Henrietta”).

“You can't read into what critics think the ideal Yeasayer is. Or where we went wrong. Or where we go right,” Wilder said. “You have to follow your own muse.”

For the guitarist, this generally means writing songs triggered by events in his daily life (bandmate Chris Keating, in contrast, tends to generate those tunes driven by external forces like politics, religion and scientific advancement). Most recently, Wilder has been penning music inspired by the birth of his first daughter, Uma, and it wouldn't be a surprise if some of these concepts surfaced on the next Yeasayer album, which the band hopes to begin recording sometime in December.

“I just recently wrote a song about my daughter...and it was very easy because it's this very new thing in your life,” he said. “New love is easy to write about because you're having these new thoughts and new feelings.

“It's difficult to write about someone you've been with five years. What are those songs? [Sings] 'I still love you! and, 'You can really depend on me!' With a baby, it's like I've got tons and tons of thoughts every day...and the songs just really flow out.”

“But what does your daughter think of all this?” I ask. “Is she a fan of Yeasayer?”

“Oh yeah, for sure!” Wilder said, and laughed. “She starts smiling every time I play her a song.”