During a recent conversation I had playfully discussed the kind of music that you would want to hear as you “die on the dancefloor”, we were mentioning a few bands, but none came as close to the harrowing, oft-brazen sounds of the latest from the Brooklyn trio, Yeasayer. With their patented off-kilter percussion and saturated bass, they have created an album for the end-times, without much preamble. Their previous records— the freak-folk All Hour Cymbals, and the playful Odd Blood— poised them as an experimental, even progressive synth pop outfit, engaging in more lofty ideals than their counterparts, artists like HEALTH or Miike Snow. On Fragrant World, they have neglected some of their better attributes for a more aggressive, eerie journey. While it remains rambunctious as ever, they’ve replaced the charming disorder that they became known for with dreariness, resulting in a much harsher listening experience. It fares relatively well for them, but doesn’t make for their best work.
Upon my initial listen, it was difficult to point out any “single ready” tracks, unlike the immediate “2080” or “Ambling Alp”. However, after revisiting it over the past few weeks, it has redeemed itself continuously, reverting back to a more primal ambiance. The crunching, EDM tribal beats are perfected in most of the selections, most notably on “Fingers Never Bleed” and “Damaged Goods”, but it’s when they slow it down in the burner, “Henrietta” that they make the best work. Despite the album’s desolate nature, there are some truly inspiring moments, most effectively in the song “The Devil and the Deed”, with is juxtaposed title; it is the closest thing to a dance anthem on the entire record. Again, with constant listens, “Blue Paper” could also be deemed as a possible single, its handclaps making it a slightly more fun affair, not to mention the homage to Lionel Richie in its end.
Pessimism is dripping off this album, lyrically and thematically, slaving over everything from bank closures to environmental weariness. Yeasayer are anxious for the not-too-distance future, nervous for their livelihoods and those of their friends, and while they express it in a denseness unlike anything they’ve produced to date, it is the reflection of their past that keeps them grounded. When immortality seems more of a reality over time, by the album’s end, they are closer to embracing it. The final track, “Glass of a Microscope”, reminds me of Radiohead’s Kid A; it’s a creature born out of sterile and austere conditions, desperately trying to break the surface. It’s not the grandest of ideals, but it’s definitely hopeful.