A couple years ago, Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” was a surprise addition to my collection, ranking near the best of the year as an album and providing some of the year’s best songs, including “Strange Reunions”. The album brought an almost Middle Eastern flair to experimental rock—as bad as that potentially sounds—and represented something completely unique. It was quite different from Yeasayer’s slightly more “out there” debut, and represented a move towards more widespread accessibility (though you could argue that their debut had the highest highs, like this one). Now Yeasayer attempts to follow up their foray into a broader audience with their third album, “Fragrant World”.
Still focusing on their synth-heavy experimentalism, the Middle Eastern touches are essentially gone here. But while “Fragrant World” might not stack up quite as favorably against “Odd Blood”, the album still has some stellar moments. Best of these moments is album opener “Fingers Never Bleed”, a song about white collar crime of all things. Here it all comes together, though, carried by a rush of synths propped up against a softer keyboard and pleasant melody line. The album’s strong first half is continued through “Longevity”, a bass-heavy, herky-jerky track and much more melodic, falsetto-tinged “Blue Paper”. The second half of “Blue Paper” and the entire front portion of “Henrietta” showcase the more experimental side of Yeasayer, though “Henrietta” devolves into an catchy electro-dreamy bit, perfect for night driving. The electronic focus continues on the not-so-immediately gratifying “Devil and the Deed”, which like the following track, “No Bones”, displays impressive grasp over a style of music I’m not personally a fan of. However, both of these songs, have grown on me. Two of the more grinding, electronically-focused songs that are the most successful, “Reagan’s Skeleton” and “Folk Hero Shtick” are better because they don’t forget to mix catchiness or quirk with their experimentalism. In that sense they don’t distract from the album like, say, “Children” and it’s awfulness distracted from “Odd Blood”.
Yeasayer have always been hard to peg stylistically, I’ll grant you that. This is both their strength and weakness, I suppose. It’s possible to be a fan of all three of their albums, as I can personally attest, but they genre-shift to the point where their commonalities are difficult to ascertain or describe. In other words, it’s difficult to believe the almost pirate-sounding elements at the end of “2080”, impassioned romantic vocal elements of “I Remember”, and gruff industrial elements of “No Bones” could possibly come from the same band. Because of this it’s hard to say what their “best” album is, though my initial reaction is to put it in the middle of the three efforts. Regardless, songs like “Blue Paper”, “Longevity”, “Folk Hero Shtick”, and especially “Fingers Never Bleed” are certainly worth your attention.