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Yeasayer - Fragant World

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Artist: Yeasayer

Album: Fragant World

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Aug. 13, 2012

On its debut full-length, 2007’s All Hour Cymbals, Brooklyn indie rock ensemble Yeasayer set the meandering pop hooks, harmonies and chants of freak folk to a tourist’s amalgam of ethnic appropriations from raga riffs to heavy syncopated drumming. On its follow-up release, 2010’s Odd Blood, the group veered toward a more electronic, danceable pop, but reaffirmed its capacity to churn out a few addictive anthems per album. Frontman Chris Keating had declared on the early, viral recording “2080” that “It’s a new year / I’m glad to be here,” and he was back with more positive vibes on the standout track from Yeasayer’s second album, “Ambling Alp”: “You must, stick up for yourself son / Never mind, what anybody else[’s] done.”

On its third and latest record, Fragrant World, Yeasayer has continued along the path it veered onto with Odd Blood. In other words, it has tightened its grip around a jittery, synth heavy sound that bears affinities with the more straightforwardly danceable works of Cut Copy or Justice, but retains at least hints of Yeasayer’s former preoccupation with the world music-tinged sonic collage. What is most striking about Fragrant World, however, is not the incremental change in the concentration, coherence or even danceability of Yeasayer’s aesthetic. Instead, what stands out most is the lack of any melodic and harmonic highlights to rival the peaks of All Hour Cymbals and Odd Blood.

The most memorable tracks on Yeasayer’s third album are pleasant enough. For instance, opener “Fingers Never Bleed” compellingly moves from verses of spare balladry over a syncopated beat to a danceable hook accented by woozy horns. The more traditional dance-pop refrains of “Devil and the Deed” and “Reagan’s Skeleton” are similarly nod-worthy. But subtle flair in composition and arrangement does little to elevate even the best moments of Fragrant World above other B-grade, vaguely hip dance music. The melodic lines are never as memorable as those that ran through say, “Ambling Alp,” or “ONE.” Equally noticeable is the complete absence of the fervent, quasi-mystical harmonies that soared on early Yeasayer standouts, including not just “2080,” but also numbers such as “Wait for the Summer,” “Forgiveness,” and “Madder Red.”

Yeasayer retains enough of its former charm to make Fragrant World worth a few spins, perhaps even a place in one’s music library, but the record represents a frustrating paradox. Just as Yeasayer appears to have planted its two feet firmly on the dance floor, it seems to have lost much of its capacity for eccentric pop magic.

By Benjamin Ewing

Other Reviews of Yeasayer

All Hour Cymbals

Odd Blood

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View all articles by Benjamin Ewing

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