Brooklyn threesome Yeasayer is one of those bands which it is nearly impossible to put your thumb on. Their sound has a tendency to jump from "organic" to "fabricated" much like their music itself has a tendency to skip from "unequivocal" to "sporadically schizophrenic." This seemingly perpetual dichotomy can hinder the band just as much as it can help them.
For instance, in both of their previous releases (2007's All Hour Cymbals and 2010's Odd Blood) tracks can be located on each album that either shimmer as pop-infused gems but then the next track can be almost as strange as the previous track was clear-cut. Take Odd Blood's "Mondegreen" or "The Children" as evidence of a band that thoroughly enjoys being "out there" meanwhile songs like "Ambling Alp" or "ONE" sound like they could be placed in the middle of a Disney/Pixar film.
This really distracted me from enjoying Odd Blood as much as a lot of fellow critics seemed to back in '10. I'm a pop music-junky at heart, so half of that album really stuck, while the rest just seemed like a jargon of gunk mixed in sporadically and fell to the floor. I can appreciate an act being unique and odd with their music, but with 3-4 of the songs off Odd Blood being so well-constructed as pop music, the rest of the songs lost their luster in comparison. I felt like half of the album was phoned-in, but I couldn't tell what half; who is the real Yeasayer?
Well, with their third major release, Fragrant World, Yeasayer inches closer to finding themselves in their own music. Heavily influenced by R&B and sodden with lyrics revolving around troublesome times, the album actually stands out as the most cohesive album the group has released.
Standing out on Fragrant World are tracks "Longevity" "Henrietta" "The Devil and the Deed" and "Blue Paper" which all sound like they could have been produced by The Weeknd. "Blue Paper" features a pretty awesome bass line and hand claps in the bridge, with emotionally front-loaded lyrics "She keeps on telling me I'm not made for this/ So they never give you the time/ Baby, do you really care?" And lead vocalist Chris Keating's vocals are auto-tuned and subtly warped just right to portray Keating's chops.
In fact, this is a microcosm for the entire album. And for once, it's easy (or easier) for me to say that, as a whole, the album's tracks have a strong bond with one another. All of the songs feature lengthy lyric content that primarily orbit around the ideas of love and finding happiness in trying times, and no matter how dark the lyrics and vocals are, the sporadic funk of the instrumental sections are irresistibly fun and beg to be remixed (which I'm sure they will be).
"Reagan's Skeleton" features a spectacular beat loop structure, jarring bass, a breakdown with congo-like drums and cowbell during the chorus, and shines as one of the more abstract songs on the album yet still stands out as one of the best. But unlike previous efforts, Yeasayer's attempt to layer abstract lyrics and themes with electro-funk beats and backing tracks actually works to their advantage with Fragrant World. Upon the first dozen listens, every track seems worthwhile; pushing the boundaries laid forth with the previous track's obscurities, while maintaining a level of enjoyment garnered by listening to each song.
|Yeasayer performs on Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon|
With Fragrant World, Yeasayer tries its best to tap the fountain of success for obscure electro-funk-pop-R&B-infused bands like MGMT, Animal Collective, Passion Pit, et al. The group still comes up a little short, but the album is definitely the strongest that Yeasayer has put out yet. If nothing else, the band is finding their groove, and actually hitting it more times than not.
My Rating: 3.7/5
Stream "Fragrant World" over at NPR
Purchase "Fragrant World" from iTunes