To be faced with the task of reviewing a band whose sound is very blatantly similar to that of Animal Collective is, for a critic, a bit of a pickle. To be faced with that task and also really, really like said band is an even bigger pickle. More like a pickle and a half, even.
Chicago-based experimental rock band YAWN is the band at hand. Utilizing the same warped vowels, animalistic hooting, simple harmonies and sparse yodeling of Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, the sound of YAWN’s lead singer may leave listeners with the slightest wonder as to whether or not the band is some sort of side project of Avey’s—a more danceable side project, perhaps. If Avey Tare’s music is the sonic equivalent of an acid trip, YAWN’s is like being on speed. Or sugar. Or it’s like taking half of an Adderall, eating twelve doughnuts, smoking a joint, and going for a joyful ride on the freeway in a convertible.
Open Season begins with the drama of Yeasayer, but keeps their vibe a happier one. The entire album is a bit like a happy, stoned dance, playing with animal-like noises, childish vocals, and lots of crash cymbals. And if it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. But it’s familiar in a good way.
YAWN is putting out catchy, dramatic sounds that make for a happy escape.
So much of what makes this album a solid one is that each song has its own progression. Each tells its own story and has its own version of an ebb and flow. This is music that explores itself, sees what kind of territory each song can enter into, becoming music that is very much worth our while. The swell of the first chorus on “Acid,” for example, is undoubtedly the song’s peak. The crash cymbal hits on the downbeat of each 6/8 measure, creating a foggy waltz of sorts, much like the trip to which it refers.
This peak hits, however, only about a minute in, despite the fact that it’s a five-and-a-half minute song. The rest of the song explores low moments of owl-like hooting, highs of more cymbal crashes, and the calm exit of an acoustic guitar. It’s worth noting that explorations of this kind make Animal Collective such a dramatically riveting band, as well.
Similarly pleasant waltzing is present on the lovely “Sing Low,” whereas tracks like “Gasoline” and “Magician” experiment with much more dance-heavy sounds, allowing YAWN to express their individuality a bit more. While the hectic beat feels a little out of place on “Gasoline,” they’ve pretty much nailed it on “Magician,” a song that is just happy as hell. The dance elements are integrated into the avant-garde aura almost seamlessly.
The question of originality cannot be ignored, which, again, given the fact that this is still a happy and interesting album, makes for that big old critic’s pickle. But shame has no place here. YAWN is putting out good experimental music in what often feels like a huge sea of mess. And the ending to Open Season, “Rainy Days,” leaves us with a bit of beauty, fun, and momentous closure. Perhaps the band is still finding the voice that is entirely their own, but what they have here is certainly worthy of facing as many pickles as is necessary to listen.
YAWN – Open Season tracklist:
- “Keep Up”
- “Sing Low”
- “Never Knew”
- “Astral Observatory”
- “Rainy Days”