Yeasayer is one of those bands that have seemed to find a way to thrive in these jumbled, musical times. The Brooklyn-based trio creates music catchy enough to be featured on hit network television shows, yet their challenging and tweaked strains of psych-pop have kept them in the good graces of the fluctuating whims of the indie blogosphere. And much of their past work validates this duality. Songs like “Ambling Alp,” “Wait For The Summer” and “Madder Red” swerve along with instantly catchy grooves that can resonate with Top 40 pop chart listeners or the average American TV consumer. Underneath it all, though, are enough chunks of lyrical obtuseness and melodic volatility to pleasantly ring the eardrums of even the most hardened musical cynics. Yeasayer has found a way to gain commercial success and indie-cred viability without alienating either establishment, a truly tough accomplishment in this day and age.
Their latest release, Fragrant World, keeps in atmospheric line with previous work. It’s shifty and non-linear, woozy and a bit hypnotic. It’s shape-shifting and eclectic, but despite its’ obvious aural origins, hard to pin down. The change here, though, lies in the strict focus on dance rhythms. The band seems to have hung up their grizzled electric guitar elements, and instead make full use of techno-influenced blips, beats, and drones. There are grooves, like album-opener “Fingers Never Bleed” and the New Order-esque “Blue Paper” that demand listeners to take to their feet and pay respect to the eminently danceable beats the songs provide. On the contrary, there are others, like the sublimely named “Reagan’s Skeleton” and the closing number “Glass of the Microscope” that skitter along with a more menacing vibe, serving as sort of an ominous counterpoint to the sunny disposition of the band’s more good-natured sounds. It is these darker sounding tracks, though that reflect the album’s thematic focus on death and decay…certainly not upbeat subject matter for dance jams. In any regard, the album definitely shies away from any rock-oriented elements and embraces a thumping, pulse-driven stylistic element.
While, all in all, a solidly intriguing listen, the album contains a few too many songs that collapse in on themselves rather than soar to the heights that they initially aim towards. Lead single, “Henrietta,” is a prime example of this misstep, as the meandering bridge brings to a halt the propulsion generated in the song’s opening lines. If you’re going to dive completely into dance music as Yeasayer seem to be doing here, then the noodling and experimental tendencies embraced on previous releases need to be seamlessly incorporated into each element of the song. Otherwise, the music tends to plod along and dance floor denizens reach for the couches. While their aim here was almost assuredly not to become club DJ favorites, some of song structures here may have listeners reaching to fast forward.
Yeasayer’s music typically demands patience and repeated listens, elements that lack a bit from this release as the songs don’t reveal many hidden layers. With Fragrant World, they miss the mark a little bit, but it’s still a noble enough attempt to keep people interested in following their career arc. It will be fun to watch which direction they embark upon next and decipher what chapter of their evolvement this release falls under.