by: Michael Shields
Yeasayer’s latest album, ‘Fragrant World’, further defines their unique sound while inviting you into a demented rhythm and blues dream….
I have maintained since Yeasayer’s first album, All Hour Cymbals, and progressing onto their masterpiece, 2010’s Odd Blood1, that Yeassayer is one of the most interesting and, dare I say, better bands out there right now. Their aggressive and brave blending of psych rock and alt synth with a heavy dose of unfamiliar R&B2 unearths a realm where darkness and fun actually coexist. Their latest, Fragrant World, builds on their previous two releases and impressively borrows from both (the pop sensibility of Odd Blood and the unprocessed feel of All Hour Cymbals) to the result of further defining their unique psych-pop sound. It’s an ambitious album in many ways, but nothing ever happens of worth when a band rests upon their laurels in their comfort zone.
The celebrated sing along hooks of ‘Ambling Alp’, ‘O.N.E.’, and ‘Madder Red’ are gone but amply replaced by gentler refrains that resonate nonetheless. A plea to live in the moment echoes throughout ‘Longevity’ while an “all hell is gonna Break loose” current runs through ‘Demon Road’. The “I would need it to sleep over” segment of the tense and staccato ‘Devil and the Deed’ as well as the “uh oh I won’t buy it for a second” bliss of ‘Blue Paper’ will remain with you as persistently as any hook they have conceived thus far. The album is danceable and full of as much life as possible for music that could easily be visualized bumping in the dungeons of a post-apocalyptic dance hall.
And there are hits, ones that when added to Yeasayer’s already stout catalog of bangers will reinforce and heighten the power of their already blazing live performances. The whole middle block of the album–the centerpieces, the peak of the mountaintop ascended–all have legs, and are all distinguished and enduring. Those tracks, the epic ‘Henrietta’3 which tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Baltimore woman whose cancer cells were preserved for research purposes after she died in 19514, the astonishing ‘Devil and the Deed’ with Anand Wilder on vocals5, and ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ are the cream of a strong crop6.
01 Fingers Never Bleed
03 Blue Paper
05 Devil and the Deed
06 No Bones
07 Reagan’s Skeleton
08 Demon Road
09 Damaged Goods
10 Folk Hero Shtick
11 Glass of the Microscope
It’s not a knock to say that most, hell all, of the songs come off better in concert7 where the synthetic pops are allowed to breathe and flow throughout the venue8. In concert, too, you get to see how talented of a bassist that Ira Wolf Tuton is. He imposes his will in person and is a force to be reckoned with. The album is not as tidy as the first two records but there is order to the chaos, which reveals itself more clearly after a few solid listens. It’s dense and thick as a brick really. It is a lot to bite into but I assure you the aftertaste is pleasant. In fact the album is at its most unique and entertaining when it is at its most complex. The melodic changes of ‘Blue Paper’ and the entangled intricacy of ‘Folk Hero Schtick’ are a crash course in heavy, thick, low-end production.
If the final track of Fragrant World, entitled ‘Glass of the Microscope’, is any indication of the bands future direction then we are assured to be heading into an even darker place. Pessimistic lines such as “I wish I could tell you that it’s alright – But the truth is we’re doomed….Consumed by all the truck fumes that would kill you without uttering a sound” leave us blissfully dazed and wary of the depths Yeasayer may possibly traverse. But I, for one, am going along for the ride….wherever it may lead. They have earned that much, thrice over now.
- Possibly the best album released in 2010 [↩]
- Chris Keating has cited R&B as a prime influence, with Fragrant World being a somewhat “demented R&B album” [↩]
- It is no wonder this track was released months in advance to garner excitement and escalate hype [↩]
- Note: HeLa cells, like other cell lines, are termed “immortal” in that they can divide an unlimited number of times in a laboratory cell culture plate as long as fundamental cell survival conditions are met (i.e. being maintained and sustained in a suitable environment). There are many strains of HeLa cells as they continue to evolve in cell cultures, but all HeLa cells are descended from the same tumor cells removed from Mrs. Lacks. It has been estimated that the total number of HeLa cells that have been propagated in cell culture far exceeds the total number of cells that were in Henrietta Lacks’s body. There are many strains of HeLa cells as they continue to evolve in cell cultures 70 years after her death. 60,000 scientific articles had been published about research done on HeLa cells, and that number is increasing steadily at a rate of more than 300 papers each month. Due to their ability to replicate indefinitely, and their non-Human number of chromosomes, HeLa was described by Leigh Van Valen as an example of the contemporary creation of a new species, Helacyton gartleri. [↩]
- Anand co-wrote the album with Chris Keating [↩]
- With No Bones being the lone exception, a song I can only described as disjointed, and not in a good way. [↩]
- Headphones or an empowering car stereo system will do the trick as well [↩]
- The recent tour, of which I caught a glimpse, features an architect-designed stage and an immersive light show overseen by installation artist and UCLA prof Casey Reas [↩]