In its best moments, the new disc from indie-elctro-funk-rock (alas, the band is one of those quirky efforts which are essentially unclassifiable) band Yeasayer seems like some kind of off-kilter musical interpretation of a cybernetic industrial revolution, through blips, beeps, bops, and a collage of unstoppable hooks. Where previous albums seemed like stitched-together mutts of albums, Fragrant World achieves some kind of chaotic balance, and ends up far more inviting than the group’s past albums, in the sense that a supercomputer is in some perverse way inviting.
The aesthetic of the album is one of incredible density, fast-tempoed synth hooks, and a persistent, fascinatingly infectious tempo. These are not the kinds of songs that will get stuck in one’s head or whose words one can understand on the first try, but while they are playing they are nearly entrancing in terms of the electric-molasses jams they establish. One needs no further proof than the hook of “Reagan’s Skeleton” or the synth riffs of “Fingers Never Bleed”, which opens the album, to understand the kind of enigmatic groove I’m speaking of, which cannot be described so much as felt.
The lyricism is not so much dense as obscured by the stunning synth instrumentation (a possible exception being “Demon Road”, where Chris Keating intones that “All hell is going to break loose” in a way that is groovy beyond description), and this is not always such a bad thing, because the vocals simply become another sonic instrument contributing to the cyberpsychedelic moonscape (I use such terminology because this kind of music, I find, is really difficult to compare to anything); however, it must be noted that, until the listener can pierce through to a proper understanding of the lyrics (what I have understood I have found to be middle-of-the-road and not in any way revolutionary), the album does lose that dimension of meaning.
Regardless, it must be noted that there is truly not a bad song on this album (except the intro to and sound effects on “Folk Hero Shtick” give me a headache), unless Yeasayer’s peculiar aesthetic and wild synth-drum blasts are too much for you, in which case they are all bad songs. I find something scintillating in the mathematically layered mess of their music, which makes for an excellent background cadence (for instance, while writing this review). In the end, Fragrant World is just that: fragrance, intoxicating smells (see the numinous closer, “Glass of the Microscope”). It’s good for the same reason Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was good: even if you can’t tell what on earth it’s about, it’s still really, really pretty, in complex ways that bubblegum-music simply can’t be. Sometimes, that’s more than enough. Score: 8/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor