To engage a new Yeasayer album is to engage the faceless beast -- the band is like a phoenix, continually bursting into flames and emerging from the ashes a new, changed aesthetic. To criticize them for stylistic integrity would be missing the point -- they actively avoid photocopying themselves. Thus with Fragrant World
, the third tent pole in their ever-growing discography, they've nailed yet another style with surprisingly fresh sounds, coating their brilliant hooks in a new sense of self. And it's one of their best senses yet.
Yeasayer's second album Odd Blood
is an operatic odyssey, traveling through mountains of sound and emotion to cherry-pick moments of guttural glee. Fragrant World
strips this wall of sonic incredulity to a leaner, more taut collection of noises, elastic and engorged with dark R&B. Whereas Odd Blood
dwelled in, for lack of a better term, odd exclamations, Fragrant World
takes the strangeness and repackages it in a pure experimental pop wrapper, brooding at the seams. Instead of the whirlwind of noise catapulting from every direction, it's a more polished, appealing aesthetic. It's easier to imagine these songs appealing to a wider audience, not only because the songs themselves dwell closer to mass appeal, but because the band has spent so long breaking down what constitutes "mass appeal" with sheer quality and force of will.
But one could spend all day trying to compare all the ferociously different methodologies at play and still forget the most crucial appeal of Yeasayer -- their tenacity. The band's emphasis on harmony and groove-based hooks make them a candidate for Beach Boys 3000 status, and the kind of band that future musicians will study as a lesson in textbook aughts reinvention while maintaining core musical values. It's hard to not be impressed with their malleable style, or the way they always seem to mold it in a recognizable way, despite almost becoming a new band on every album.
To their current iteration. To discuss favorites here would also be antithetical to the point -- all of the songs bring something great to the table, and that's what makes this a great album. "Fingers Never Bleed" sucks us into the new, lean world of fragrant. "Longevity" find the band exploring down-tempo bangers. "Blue Paper" is the first example of songs that morph inside themselves. "Henrietta" follows suit, as well as being the album's most massively appealing exploration. One by one the band rattles each song off, each with a freight-train's worth of memorable hooks and riffs. Each with a veritable book of emotionally loaded lyricism. Each sounding ten times bigger than the lean production and funk-friendly arrangements.
If I was forced at gunpoint to pick some standout moments, though, I suppose I could. The electronic riff on "Damaged Goods" is euphoria inducing. The opening verse of "Glass of the Microscope" is heart-breaking. And the outro to "Henrietta" is hauntingly beautiful, taking the band's ability to take robo-harmony to a whole new level of awe, and effectively using the low end of drum and bass to add power and scale.
As with Odd Blood
, the whole thing feels like one big lucid dream to me, and that's the best part of Yeasayer. They don't just make albums, they make experiences. They may change, from one collection to the next, from recording to live setting, one big amorphous blob of creativity and emotion. But it's always an experience, and one worth having again and again and again.
And be sure to check out our full length Yeasayer concert video