Yeasayer - Fragrant World - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Yeasayer - Fragrant World

by Aidan Rylatt Rating:6.5 Release Date:2012-08-20

Brooklyn five-piece Yeasayer first came to attention in 2007 with the release of debut album All Hour Cymbals, which was inspired by psychedelia and Afrobeat. While such esoteric influences occasionally got in the way of the songs, on the wondrous 'Sunrise' and '2080' in particular they showed that they were in possession of a certain pop nous that shined through regardless of their more inaccessible instincts.

Follow-up Odd Blood was even better. While being an entirely different record to their debut, the progression felt natural rather than forced. Where some bands would have been justifiably accused of jumping on a post-MGMT bandwagon, Yeasayer's embrace of electronics had the air of being simply a new way for them to produce great pop songs. Partially as a result of this, Odd Blood felt like a much more coherent record than All Hour Cymbals, and while songs like 'O.N.E.' and 'Ambling Alp' became cross-over hits, there were also moments like 'The Children', which sounded like it was sung by Saruman in a wind tunnel, and 'Love Me Girl', which contained enough ideas in five minutes for about eight different songs, and which still sounded like great, interesting pop music.

Hopes were high for Fragrant World then, but for reasons only they can know, Yeasayer seem to have opted for a strategy of self-sabotage. In the run-up to the release of Fragrant World, the band have been talking up the fact that this would be a more experimental record than Odd Blood. Unfortunately, where in the past they pursued experimentation but with great melodies attached, frequently on Fragrant World they seem to have forgotten to make the songs go anywhere. 'Longevity', 'Demon Road' and 'Damaged Goods', for example, aren't bad songs, but compared to Yeasayer at their frenetic best they sound a bit like the aural equivalent of the band jogging on the spot.

Fragrant World certainly has its moments, though. The title track is Yeasayer doing what they do best: odd, intelligent pop. Similarly, the immersive 'Henrietta' is one of the best songs here, and also exemplifies Yeasayer's occasional knack of making a pop song which does what you'd least expect but still makes sense, slowing down towards its end to woozy keyboards, some lovely bass work and Chris Keating's treated vocals sighing "Oh Henrietta....." This is Yeasayer as they should be. 'Reagan's Skeleton', meanwhile, is the best song on the record and showcases their impressive ability to write a song that wouldn't sound out of place on Radio 1 yet features lyrics like "Let's make a skeleton in the moonlight" and incomprehensible references to "sentimental violence". And is, let's face it, called 'Reagan's Skeleton'. One Direction this ain't.

This is the frustrating thing about Fragrant World. Listening to it, one gets the impression the band found themselves rather startled by the success of Odd Blood's poppiest moments and have subsequently deliberately tried to make as awkward a record as possible. But the best thing about Yeasayer is that their catchiest moments have never sounded forced - it's pop music that hasn't been stripped of anything interesting or experimental and is all the better for it. Fragrant World's highlights show Yeasayer certainly haven't lost the knack of writing those kind of songs, they just need to become comfortable with the idea of themselves as a pop band. Here's hoping their fourth album will find a band more at ease with the direction they're heading in.

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