At the ripe status of two-album confidence, Yeasayer had already achieved conceptual mastery. They’ve defined themselves as a strange band that produces strange music. But was it too early for a band to have advanced so far?
It seems at this point, the band has come to know their craft, and it seems they’re ready to escalate their already-signature sound to an entirely new level. From the sounds of third album, Fragrant World, they’re ready to forget mainstream appeal and focus on the conceptual bulk that formed their uniqueness.
There is not much resemblance to the old-school Yeasayer. We don’t hear things similar to the lovable “Ambling Alp” nearly at all in the album. What’s displayed is a more refined mix of psychedelic sounds and unexpectedly hookless choruses. Fragrant World chooses to open with “Fingers Never Bleed,” which honestly sounds weak off from the start. Yeasayer doesn’t turn heads right away like they’ve done in the past. There was still hope for the shock factor to kick in.
Though “Blue Paper” decent after two songs, it is too long to be fully memorable. Eventually, lead single “Henrietta” is definitely a trip and a half. The waves of sound that brush on the song’s shoreline are great, but what starts as awesome fizzles into something less exciting by the song’s end. It’ll be interesting to learn what the band chooses for a follow-up because there may not simply be another one to test with the public from the likes of Fragrant World.
This is where Yeasayer expects their core fans to move on with them — now that they’ve comfortably tucked away their old discography and are going forward with the more refined version of their most deliberately characteristic material. With this deliberate shake up, they’re slapping on a new concept and a more tactfully edgy tone and lovers of this psycho sound will likely go crazy over it. But what about the rest of us?
The combination of efforts becomes filtered — too thick, too layered with effects and noises to enjoy. The result is somewhat cheap and discombobulated. “Folk Hero Schtick” could be seen as fun and intriguing near the album’s end, but it ends up sounding like a bad trip with nothing quite connected or relatable. Each audio effect is interesting but we question whether it has any significance or justification.
This album takes a step in a questionable direction. It’s not as playful as previous efforts or even as huggable as successful works like “O.N.E.” and “Sunrise.” There’s just no spark, and some of it may have to do with the band stuck between taking themselves too seriously or not taking themselves seriously enough. It’s honestly hard to tell.
Fragrant World is not easy to follow, but this is the essence of the band. Some people just get it, others will never catch on. They’re in a game of polarization, never aiming to hook new fans or please critics, but constantly grooving to their own beat and shamelessly putting out experimental jams. We don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason to look out for, or a method to the madness that makes it so unique. There’s a lot of gray area left to be filled, and this time the music has got us hopping the fence to find relief from the monstrosity.