“They’re slipping through the holes again / Those fire ants they bite / And they don’t make love like we used to / We don’t read by candlelight,” frontman Anand Wilder laments on “Let Me Listen In On You,” the fifth track on Yeasayer’s new album, Erotic Reruns. It isn’t the record’s first reference to intimacy either, whether it’s waning, out of reach, or absent. “Blue Skies Dandelions,” “I’ll Kiss You Tonight,” “Fluttering in the Floodlights,” and “People I Loved” pine for proximity; taken together, they give Erotic Reruns a downbeat character to contrast with its upbeat sound. It’s an album about love that’s loveless, music to get down to where no one in the songs is getting down at all.
Funny that the long-running indie pop band from Brooklyn structured Erotic Reruns as a vessel for scathing political commentary. The record, the band’s fifth to date, takes shots at the concept of the surveillance state, calls out a few of Donald Trump’s corrupt flunkies by name and makes occasional nods to James Comey. It’s love in the time of dying democracy. If each track on Erotic Reruns featured that same harmony—a meshing of ideological protestation with tunes worth boogeying to—it’d likely be the best entry to date in Yeasayer’s discography. Good old-fashioned soulful grooving makes a buoyant vehicle for flipping off fascists.
But Erotic Reruns’ keeps most of its critique low-key, wrapping it so thoroughly in longing and libido that unwrapping one from the other becomes near-impossible. On paper, that’s arguably the better strategy: 9 tracks repeating the same message (“screw you, Trump”) would get tiresome faster than news app updates about the latest embarrassments or atrocities committed by our murkily elected presidential administration. Art’s purpose is to promote ideas and tap into cultural consciousness, at least on high-minded levels, but art that has something to say about the time in which it’s released, and knows it has something to say to boot, tends toward smug over-preciousness. What if Erotic Reruns wasn’t about “love”? What if it was just about America?
Keating, Tuton, and Anand Wilder avoid that pretension through union of Erotic Reruns’ dual identity as swinging multi-genre rock—a bit of folk here (“Blue Skies Dandelions”), a dash of R&B over there (“I’ll Kiss You Tonight”), synth-heavy pop overlaying the whole thing (“Ecstatic Baby,” “Ohm Death,” “Crack A Smile”)—and roiling, cheeky political frustration. Their subtlety, more accurately their nuance, is welcome and even commendable. Another band might have smashed the pedal to the floor with “24-Hour Hateful Live!” and just made that the album: Here, Keating dubs unctuous senior policy advisor Stephen Miller a child killer and calls press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a propagandist, all while counting down the nuclear clock to the fleet-footed funk of bassist Ira Wolf Tuton’s G&L fretless. Miller and Sanders make cameo appearances here, figures in a government as well as a culture both fueled by a non-stop toxic barrage of falsehood, fearmongering, and paranoia. They aren’t the only villains in the piece; they’re just the ones Keating singles out.
But appreciation for restraint aside, there’s perhaps too much of it, and the effect of the too-muchery plays as coy to the ear. Allusion’s a good narrative tool, but maybe a direct name-check would work better than nature imagery evoking Comey’s Twitter habit of posting elliptical messages married to (admittedly stunning) shots taken in the great outdoors. The opening lines of “Blue Skies Dandelions,” for instance, flirt with undisguised referral: “James says he never saw you laugh,” sings Wilder in the song’s opening verse, hinting at Comey’s claim that he never once heard the president chuckle. It’s a nice hint but likely to fly over most folks’ heads as memories grow overburdened by constant news updates in the social media era. On its own, the song works as a story of a man alienated from others, yearning for connection (“There must be something I can do / I wish I could make you less lonely,” goes the chorus). But as an allegory, it’s strained, lovely to the ear but so lyrically elusive as to be baffling.
Still, the aural cohesion across Erotic Reruns writ large imparts personality to the album. For a band boasting a confluence of influences as abundant as Yeasayer’s, the lines delineating feel distinct from each other. Their music never feels soupy in terms of inspiration; the album’s sound derives from any and every source imaginable, and yet the sound is all their own. What the album lacks in fine-tuning it makes up for in sheer experiential pleasure. It’s a half hour bop for the American experiment’s gradual decay.
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.