In the indie community, it’s accepted that American psychedelic indie band Yeasayer is something like Animal Collective’s little brother, even though not everyone has agreed those terms yet.
The latter group has been so wild in their experimentation that their genre has become unidentifiable, and just when you think you’ve pinned them down, they release another record that turns around and sprints at Olympic speeds away from their previous album. They have built their rabid fan base not only on the merits of their current work, but also on the speculation of what their next release might sound like.
Yeasayer’s career has followed a similar trajectory, albeit to a lesser degree. With a dedicated group of fans, they have always been diverse and hard to pin down musically, but they just haven’t yet measured up to Animal Collective, the apple of Pitchfork.com’s eye.
Speaking of Pitchfork, the music website was tough on Yeasayer’s newest effort, “Fragrant World,” saying this: “Yeasayer’s third album, ‘Fragrant World,’ is their first and only consistent LP. It not only proves that Yeasayer can make an unremarkable song, but that they can make 11 of them in a row.”
Since Pitchfork’s album ratings are to indie music lovers what an Oprah book club sticker is to stay-at-home moms, the 5.4 “Fragrant World” received doesn’t bode well for Yeasayer. However, is the hate justified?
“Fragrant World” is unmistakably a departure from their last album, “Odd Blood,” which was like looking at pop music through a pane of shattered glass — it was electronic, upbeat and fun, but at the same time there was something distorted and not quite right about it. “Fragrant World” is bassier and at times, more dubsteppy — listen closely and you might hear a wub or two.
As expected, it’s an adventure into new territory for Yeasayer, which has the possibility of scaring and alienating critics. Still, calling all 11 tracks unremarkable is either a bit of a stretch or somewhat fitting, depending on how you look at it.
Opening track “Fingers Never Bleed” is a great party song for some strange, underground New York Club that Stefon would tell Seth Meyers about on Weekend Update. Falling somewhere between the electro-pop of Cut Copy and the trip-hop of Massive Attack, it kicks the album off on a positive note and one that is indicative of the ensuing weirdness.
“Henrietta” would have fit in better on their last album, which is great because “Odd Blood” is the better record of the two. After a couple minutes of grooviness, the album’s second single dissolves into a peaceful synth melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd that grows into an arena-rock sing-along, or at least as close to one as Yeasayer can stand creating.
Lead single “Longevity” is a midtempo, bass-soaked head-bobber that both breaks new ground for Yeasayer and fits cleanly somewhere in the quilt of their musical identity.
Ironically, longevity could be the problem for this album — some great albums wow on the first play and embed themselves deeper into your brain as time goes on, while others might confuse initially, but become more understandable after a few listens.
There are two paths this album could take: The novelty of Yeasayer’s latest batch of experimentation could wear thin and leave you with a disc of strange noises, or after the parade’s over and the confetti settles, we might be left with some peculiar tunes that are built on substance rather than relying on the shock factor of their initial weirdness.
There are about as many moments in this album where you think Pitchfork might be right as there are moments when you think that maybe the hipster music journalists are trying too hard to have a negative opinion because it’s cooler to dislike something than it is to embrace it. Then again, Pitchfork has always lauded the offbeat side of music and culture, so it’s somewhat surprising they didn’t think more highly of this release.
With an album that creates this sort of discussion, there’s not much to do beside listen and come up with your own opinion.