Since the indie world traded its electric guitars for synthesizers and drum pads, experimental music has been a mainstay of the genre. Brooklyn’s Yeasayer has gained acclaim from critics and famous fans like Jay-Z for their psych-pop sound. However, on their third and latest album, Fragrant World, the band plays it a little too safe. They delve into the eccentric while pandering to synth-pop fans, never establishing anything memorable.
Fragrant World opens with “Fingers Never Bleed,” which proves to be an accurate representation of the album to follow. Its nonlinear structure keeps the listener from growing too comfortable with one beat. With all the warpedsynth, the production was obviously meticulous. Every sound is in its place, however strange that place may be. Over three albums, Yeasayer has leaned on blending electronic and standard instrumentation, to varying degrees of success. Each song struggles to find the balance between the two, especially with vocals, which are often heavily distorted with vocorder or autotune.
“Longevity” blends a Justin Timberlake-esque falsetto with saturated vocal effects, while “Blue Paper” layers anxious strings over jittering club beats. On “Blue Paper,” as is the case with most Yeasayersongs, the beats themselves are the most remarkable aspect of this song. However, they fail to bridge the gap between catchy and hook-worthy. Undoubtedly intriguing, they are unfortunately forgettable.
On “Henrietta,” twisted vocals mesh with ominous and danceable synths. Following the album’s theme of living forever, its lyrics reflect a simultaneous fascination and deep-seated fear of eternal youth. What sounds like an endearing promise from one lover to another, though, is in fact (according to the band) the story of the preserved cancer cells of a long-dead Baltimore woman. Of all the things said about Yeasayer since their start in 2007, not once have they been accused of being conventional.
Save for the occasional foray into 1950s oncology, the lyrics on Fragrant World are frustratingly boring. “Fingers Never Bleed” tells of a spurned lover with the cringe-inducing line “You think you can do this without me/ but I know I can do this without you.”
Most of the tracks on Fragrant World will almost certainly draw comparisons to synth pioneers of the’80s. “Devil and the Deed” harkens back to Depeche Mode, with its electronic-trashcan-lid-stompalongand lush, if not baffling, textures.
Over 11 distinctly similar tracks, Yeasayer fails to offer anything new. That is not to say the album is a failure. Staccato snares and buckled synth melodies will please old fans and are enough to attract new ones. However, Fragrant World, with its disappointing brand of experimental electronic that intrigues but fails to inspire, will most likely be lost in the tide of nu-disco this summer has brought.