When Yeasayer arose, in a mystic plume of smoke, from the vast mists of the blogosphere's most blessed borough, the genre-dodging Brooklyn hipsters were portrayed —due to their long, flowing manes, penchant for side-ponytails, interstellar artwork, and kookily cosmic lyrics— as hippies, pretty much. A band of prog enthusiasts whose fondness for shoelessness and four-part harmonies gave them jam-band potential. Yeasayer, in turn, verily shuddered.
In response, reinvention was called for. With 2010's effervescent Odd Blood, that reinvention came in the form of anthemic synth-pop; monstrous melodies and repetitious choruses delivered with the uncluttered rhythms of the club-built. Mixing near-bangers, sinuous R&B ballads, and slightly-demented pop-songs in their own style (see: the glorious highlight "Ambling Alp"), Odd Blood repositioned Yeasayer as festival-friendly, party-worthy outfit; and their profile grew accordingly.
If Yeasayer had kept on that upwardly-mobile path, it would've surprised no one. But Fragrant World is another reaction to what has come before; to both the preceding album and the perceptions and expectations of others. For anyone expecting another set of big, bold, singalong pop, the third Yeasayer album has some (possibly unwelcome) surprises in store. It's not a huge departure, or a shock to hear, but it's undoubtedly a more difficult, experimental, elusive set. Its electronic sounds aren't much different from Odd Blood's, but the synths, here, take on an entirely different quality.
Rough Winds Do Shake the Yeasayer Discography
There's an uneasiness of tone, an irregularity of sound, that persists throughout Fragrant World. It's one of those things that can be barely perceptible, but still effecting; a thing to make listeners a little on edge. The synths fritz and bend and wobble; the vocals are heavily treated and layered, rubbing up against each other; the rhythms are programmed but often not meticulously precise.
"Glass of the Microscope" uses pitch-correction to turn Keating's voice into a slippery, sinuous sweep of pixels, glitchy and fried; he sounding, in fuzzy multi-tracking, like a sentient computer interface dying, painfully. "Demon Road" is just as perverse, as poked, stretched, and warped; Keating's voice again made digitally gnarly amidst an odd, dubby song assemblage. Yet, that experimentalism never really occludes the pop that's in here: the creepy vocal ripples and cancer-cell-research themes of single "Henrietta" not denting its instant impact; "No Bones"' spasmodic, twitchy keys and fuzzed vocal not masking its bold, dancefloor-ready rhythms; "Reagan's Skeleton"'s deranged-new-wave sound not bothering its defiant, repetitious refrain.
It's interesting hearing the pop-songs inhabiting their weird sonic soup from which they've grown; and how sometimes they rise out of it, and sometimes seem smothered by it. The songs are united by there sense of experimentation; consistent in the inconsistency of the screwed-with tone. That sense of decay forced upon digital sounds touches into the greater themes of the record: the ephemeral nature of existence, and the constancy of change.
"Never count on longevity," frontman Chris Keating warns, amidst the restless, sinuous lurch of "Longevity"; "how quickly the bloom on the rose does leave," he later laments, mid-"Damaged Goods." He's singing of those eternal poetic themes —the inescapable thoughts of our imminent mortality a constant reminder to seize the day— but this lyrical evocation of constant change and inevitable loss speaks as much of Yeasayer's nature as of nature itself.
With Fragrant World, Yeasayer again assert that they're a band for him change is a natural part of existence; and if the LP is a little more 'difficult' than either of its predecessors, at least it guarantees that the band will remain forever interesting.
Record Label: Secretly Canadian
Release Date: August 21, 2012