Yeasayer, ‘Fragrant World’ – Album Review
Beloved and be-blogged, Yeasayer were once a Brooklyn band to the fullest, typifying the fussy artisanal nature of the borough, arising somewhere near the same neighborhood as the electro brood of TV on the Radio and the organic hooks of Grizzly Bear -- oh, those tranquil days of 2008! At Yeasayer's techno-hippie best in their first two albums, they touched the extremities of avant pop, but ‘Fragrant World,’ their third and latest release, finds only the average.
In comparison to 2007's ‘All Hour Cymbals’ and 2010's ‘Odd Blood,’ the word for 'World' is perhaps underwhelming. Though opening strong with the paranoid electro dance of ‘Fingers Never Bleed,’ and carrying through fist-pumping stompers like the Twin Shadow-summoning ‘Blue Paper’ and the swaggering nu disco of ‘Devil and the Deed,’ the album spends too much time treading water, with tracks like ‘Demon Road’ and ‘No Bones’ growing grating with their redundancy. For all of this middling, the floaty psych of ‘Folk Hero Schtick’ is welcomed for its weirdness, though its irksome imperatives of "remaster your final lullaby / See how your genius is finally realized” fall tin to the ear -- though maybe that’s just the vocal effects.
Chris Keating and Anand Wilder trade vocals throughout. Their lyrics are reflective and topical, most significantly in the standout ‘Henrietta,’ the melancholy, splash-making lead single dedicated to a woman whose genes were studied to eventually lead to the polio vaccine. In a way, she can now "live forever" through the data of her life -- a contemporary quandary that anyone with Twitter or Facebook open can attest to. Trading away the quirky sweetness, album closer ‘Glass of the Microscope’ is wrathful, with Keating’s pitch-shifted opening verse narrating a morning where the skies come to crash down, making the forewarning that “I wish I could tell that it’s all all right / But in truth, we’re doomed.” He waxes eco-meltdown, our species having been “entombed” by oil spills, encouraging the listener not to choke while underneath the microscope. It's a low emotional note to end the album on, given that a high one is never established.
Though carefully created, the music is uncharacteristically drab, rendering ‘Fragrant World’ forgettable -- an adjective previously unattached to Yeasayer.