Yeasayer – Fragrant World


When attempting to introduce one of my friends to Yeasayer a few days ago, I realised that I couldn’t adequately convey what they actually sound like. The closest genre I could marry to them was psychedelic pop, which only prompted further questions about similarities to MGMT or Animal Collective. At this I settled, if nothing else to avoid further questions I couldn’t answer, but deep down I knew comparing Yeasayer to MGMT was like calling a unicorn a horse and having done with it.  Even the bands own rhetorical sketch of their sound as ‘middle eastern-psych-snap-gospel’ doesn’t seem to me help to those of us who have a layman’s vocabulary. The simple fact is they defy easy classification. Suffice to say, their latest offering ‘Fragrant World’ only perpetuates the bands genre- sprawling credentials.

The tracks on the album itself, pre-empting online leaks were released in a typically idiosyncratic fashion. On the band’s website, a statement read:  “We have received a message that we are on the verge of embargoed information being leaked through the cracks of the digital universe”. Consequently each track was released ‘somewhere’ on the internet, being signposted by tweets and other clues. In addition to this ‘scavenger hunt’, each track was accompanied with an individual ‘moving visual’. While I’m not at liberty to ponder whether anyone was enough of a Yeasayer fan to undertake such a task to gain access to new material a few days ahead of everyone else, it does seem like a inventive, if characteristically odd, method of solving what must be a reoccurring headache for bands.

Although drawing heat from several corners such as NME, for not possessing a single, the album certainly has a few stand out tracks, from the first listen. Henrietta, in which the introduction sounds like the product of some sort of underwater synthesizer, has to be one of the most initially grabbing tracks on the album. In terms of instrumentation, Fragrant World is similar to the band’s previous work, but with yet more sonic variation. A virtual synth program, dubbed the ‘omnisphere’ was utilised to produce ‘psychoacoustic’ sounds and give a variety of instruments the harmonic qualities of another.  Formulaic instrumentation is certainly not part of Yeasayer’s repertoire- beyond bass and drums, it’s almost impossible to guess what instrument you are listening to at any given time.

Lyrically, the album sees the band reverting to a darker, more cryptic style as found on their first album, All Hour Cymbals. More pop like, prosaic lines such as ‘You must stick up for yourself son, never mind what everyone else done’, that could be found on Odd Blood are noticeably absent. Henrietta, for instance, is apparently written about Henrietta Lacks, a cancer cells donor, who died in 1951. In addition to more meditative subject matter as typical  of Yeasayer ,there are numerous examples of lyrics that are just plain odd, my initial favourite being ‘that’s Reagan’s skeleton, in the moonlight’(Think the ex president, perhaps even in the company of Thatcher?).

Overall, although the album is full of pop like hooks, even after a second or third listen through, the overwhelming impression is one of density. While the album is entertaining after a casual listen, there are a huge amount of ideas here which to be fully appreciated, warrant your time.

Euan Raffle