Review: Yeasayer – Fragrant World

Fragrant World is the latest offering from Brooklyn band Yeasayer, and it continues the band’s progressive trajectory that started with debut album All Hour Symbols, which came out a little less than five years ago in the fall of 2007. The album featured a wide range of instruments, spanning from steel drums to sitars, giving the album an African or Middle-Eastern feel similar to what Paul Simon did with Graceland – although with much different sonic results. Despite this, the album’s roots were laid in indie rock due to the energetic and enthusiastic yelping of vocalists Chris Keating and Anand Wilder. Next was Odd Blood, their sophomore release, which saw a drastic change in Yeasayer’s sound to a more dance and electronic-centered style. On each track, the band pushed to expand its sound into every which direction. In many instances they succeeded; like on the dance-pop single, “O.N.E.” and the indie anthem “Ambling Alp”, while other songs fell flat on their face, key the annoyingly upbeat jingle, “Rome”. This made for an inconsistent listen for some fans of the band’s first album who were used to a very different sound. For most, though, the album’s highs more than made up for the occasional low. The influence of these first two releases is integral to the genius of Yeasayer’s latest album, Fragrant World, because it is an extension of their continual effort to push genre boundaries and evolve, something that doesn’t happen nearly enough in the modern popular music scene.

So here it is; Yeasayer’s newest album is quite possibly the best release of 2012 thus far. The band has perfected the electronic sound they honed in on with Odd Blood. The difference between the two records is the accuracy in which Yeasayer executes track after track. Put in context, Odd Blood now appears as a necessary stepping stone needed for Yeasayer to evolve from an indie band to something more. On Fragrant World, Yeasayer seems comfortable and confident with their fully realized sound. This sound is submerged in the electronic dance-pop genre with a heavy emphasis on effects such as reverb and distortion. The sound that they have adapted is completely unique and unmistakably Yeasayer. That’s not to say they are without peers in the current musical landscape; bands such as Hot Chip, TV on the Radio and Neon Indian have similar styles in terms of instrumentation, but the execution with which Yeasayer approaches each track is unparalleled with Fragrant World.

The production (self-produced) is also consistently top notch, layering sounds so intricately and precisely that you’ll want a pair of headphones to appreciate the complexity of the rhythms. This intricacy also makes it difficult to enjoy all the little details the album has to offer on first listen, making it what some people would classify as a ‘grower’. The album reveals itself to you gradually, like a sunrise, slowly illuminating every inch of an elaborate world. That may sound cheesy but it’s true; the sound is so immersive that it sucks you in, and doesn’t release you until the beautifully robotic closer, “Glass Of The Microscope”. Each song is essential to the broader scope of the record’s aesthetic, and no track here feels thrown together or unnecessary. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; cohesiveness is Fragrant World’s greatest strength. This cohesiveness is most recently comparable to Bon Iver’s 2011 sophomore effort which painted a peaceful landscape of forest and mountain, rooted in the beauty of nature. Yeasayer’s vision is much different, transporting you to a world entirely unlike our own. This ‘place’ is best exemplified by artist Yoshi Sodeoka’s visual accompaniments for each of Fragrant World’s songs. These videos are laden with effects and filters that distort and confuse simple images such as a jungle or a dancer to the point where they are almost unrecognizable, and at other times Sodeoka spins images from thin air that resemble no specific object at all. That is what Yeasayer accomplished with this record: taking genres you thought you were familiar with – pop, R&B, dance, indie rock electronic – then twisting them into something that can only be classified as a Yeasayer album. It remains to be seen if the band will continue to play with their sound as they have on every successive album, but one thing is for sure. Whatever direction these gifted musicians take, you can guarantee it will be worth listening to.

 

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