August 8, 2012

Album Review: Yeasayer's Fragrant World

Yeasayer's 2007 debut album We Are Free made them indie scene breakouts by way of entrancing listeners in a colorful cloud of wild sounds, world beats and experimental art pop, and has since put them in a cozy position as a young band who can easily grab headlines based on their potential to make a great album. Alongside MGMT who popped up out of nowhere around the same time, the psych-pop cohorts have added a different style of bohemian influence to Williamsburgs' already-eclectic scene, but over each subsequent release, their music can leave a skeptic wondering if the focus relies too much on artistic pretensions and not so much the overall merits. Yeasayer's 2010 follow-up Odd Blood saw them deviating away from difficult textures in exchange for hyper-colored, gooey pop tracks like the standout singles "Ambling Alp," "O.N.E." and "Madder Rose," but as a whole, that album came up a few incense sticks short of a transcendental experience. On the Brooklyn trio's third effort Fragrant World, Yeasayer return under the guise of a greater degree of difficulty by putting their stoner dance-tronica on the chopping block and hastily reassembling its pieces using '90s R&B influence as its glue

On the plus side, Fragrant World scores a slightly respectable stylistic win for Yeasayer. A brief way of summing up where they've evolved to on this output recently came from Stereogum News Editor and former Pitchfork contributor Tom Breihan, who tweeted, "Yeasayer are pretty much Rusted Root for the Bassnectar age now." The backhanded compliment works perfectly considering the trio has capitalized on today's bastardized hippie electronic dance movement while infusing some shaded, slick choruses into their sound to differentiate them away from the hygienically-challenged pack. However, Fragrant World would be a great album if not for the fact that the Brooklynites over-excitedly execute too many good ideas without leaving enough space within the tracks to contain them. Even the album's most accessibly pop-centric listens have a way of getting away from themselves, whether it be in "Henrietta"'s confusing tail end ascension or the suddenly stripped crinkles throughout "Folk Hero Shtick." As for that "demented R&B" the trio advertised would rear its head on this go, the more succinct movements actually end up making the better of impressions ("Devil & the Deed," "Damaged Goods") rather than those over-thought in small, schizoid doses ("Longevity," "No Bones.") "Reagan's Skeleton" and "Demon Road" might be the only songs where glaring drawbacks are not an issue, but that's also just a nice way of saying they're the most modest and safe of the bunch.

History tells me that Yeasayer has grown increasingly comfortable sitting inside their potential and not knowing what to make of it. It's a fete that three albums in, the purveyors of the modern day Williamsburg sound continue to create new ways of avoiding concrete evidence that answers whether or not they're even capable of delivering on it. We Are Free was their initial bait, Odd Blood caught a break for its instantaneously catchy singles that compensated for what it lacked from start to finish and now, Fragrant World reacts by overloading listeners' stereos with a brainstorming session of ideas. New ideas, old ideas, over-used ideas -- even ideas from the future. It doesn't change the fact that they're more ideas than you could ask for in one sitting. Perhaps the problem here lies in this being a self-produced effort and the band needing an outside intervention to wrangle in their thoughts, or someone to tell them to stop making music that's more complicated than it should be. Somewhere in here, there's that great album from Yeasayer we've been waiting for, but mostly, it's easy to fall off Fragrant World's grid if you don't have the patience to look for it.

Yeasayer's Fragrant World will be released August 21, 2012 on Secretly Canadian.

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