As a band grows, there is always the risk of alienating some diehard fans, even while gaining new ones. Brooklyn’s Yeasayer is no different. Some fans will argue that, in its effort to evolve, the band has lost its way. Others will say Yeasayer’s newest LP Fragrant World is a thing of beauty and nuance. I tend to be somewhere in the middle.
Like most, I made the jump from All Hour Cymbals to Odd Blood gracefully, recognizing the obvious brilliance behind the new, more electronic Yeasayer sound, watching them feel their way along as if in the dark…into magnificence. From there, I suppose I was expecting another grand musical leap, and though the band does try some interesting things sonically on Fragrant World, I can’t say it has the same magic as the band’s two previous efforts.
The beats are still there. And the melodies are too. “Fingers Never Bleed,” “Blue Paper,” “Reagan’s Skeleton,” “Glass of the Microscope,” and “Demon Road,” are all examples of how the band crafts some of its best, most musical tunes and they’re really good songs if judged separate from their previous work. But up against Odd Blood, these songs are lackluster, coming across as either lazy or overambitious. That’s pretty much the tone of the entire project. It almost sounds as though Yeasayer was torn between keeping the sound that brought them to the light, and purposely trying to be different. The result is a good (not great) but often hackneyed, self-aware, eighties synth-pop. You can either dance to it, or try to figure it out. Don’t try to figure it out.
It’s tough to tell if Fragrant World is Yeasayer’s attempt to push forward, or settle in, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s not a bad album, it’s actually pretty good. Just not their best. It’s overproduced at some points. But it’s also beautiful at other points. It’s weird sometimes, and comfortable too. And to some degree, creating an experience that evokes such a range of emotions, is a success in and of itself. And though I’m sure there are many Yeasayer fans who’ll disagree, I’d like to believe that perhaps Fragrant World just has to be sat with for a while, before you can actually smell it.
– Jason Reynolds