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Album Review
Fragrant World

Fragrant World
by Yeasayer

Mute / Secretly Canadian

Review Date
15th August, 2012
Reviewed by
Courtney Sanders

While Yeasayer’s third effort Fragrant World isn’t as solid as their previous two albums it’s also not a re-hash of either; which is probably both the point and the thing that will keep them relevant.

The cover art of Brooklyn band Yeasayer’s third studio album, Fragrant World is ambiguous: is it an arm? Is it a man, bent in half? Is it in fact a computer-generated mass of ambiguity? Whatever the answer, the monochromatic structure serves as a metaphor for where this release finds the band. Exploding onto the blogosphere in 2007, All Hour Cymbals was a tribal response to the United States of George Bush (as an interview between this writer and front man Chris Keating at the time confirmed). Their sophomore was more or less a response to their debut, and what their debut had done to their image. All Hour Cymbals married world influences to political motivation, thus the psych-rave of 2010’s Odd Blood visited less intellectual territory: love. Furthermore, their rakish figures, unkempt hair and borough of choice had turned them into poster children for hippy-hipsters, and the likes of ‘Ambling Alp’ and ‘O.N.E’ blew the organic-cotton-shirts right off their backs. Yeasayer are an experimental group, constantly morphing: which was great, because if anyone mourned the death of the political earnestness on their debut, Odd Blood provided them with something more immediate: dance music. On Fragrant World they’ve arguably changed tact by marrying concepts from both previous albums, and the result is – while unique enough – all a bit muddy.

Lead single ‘Henrietta’ is apparently about stem cell research, and pulsating synthesizers slowly build alongside a bunch of booty bass and Chris Keating’s vocal, but instead of throwing an explosive chorus down the band begin the track’s outro halfway in. Similarly the opening track ‘Finger’s Never Bleed’ is pretty intoxicating from the start: a snappy rhythm section devolves into a psychedelically scornful lover’s rant similar to ‘O.N.E’, but then it just floats along sans punch. Maybe they’re just not as pissed off at the world / heartbroken as they used to be? To be fair there are still a few satisfying tracks on Fragrant World. An industrial, unashamedly new wave introduction on ‘Blue Paper’ for example, envelops the listener until washes of synthesizers deliver Keating’s call to arms: “She Keeps On Telling Me I’m Not Made For This / I Don’t Buy It For A Second”.

To compare this album to their previous records is probably the one thing Yeasayer - a band who have continued to re-invent their aesthetic – wish we wouldn’t do, but the argument here would be: if Fragrant World had a definitive shtick we probably wouldn’t have to. In fairness the band have been purposefully more experimental here and there are exciting, progressive pockets. ‘No Bones’, for example, is a confronting ballad that envisages an industrial, dystopian future: a heady marriage of a myriad politically motivated genres - the solid, concrete nature of post punk combined with the grimy fluorescence of acid house. As a whole this album almost manages to pull of the “post-internet” socially conscious, Orwellian shtick I imagine they’re going for with an industrial rhythm and a downright fed-up sentiment, there’s just no lynch-pin for Fragrant World’s more obscure inclusions can lean on for support.

With this album, one should take the good with the bad. There’s no single and some strange decisions have been made, but Yeasayer are clearly heading down a new path. I look towards album number four, when they reach the destination Fragrant World promises.


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