Yeasayer – Fragrant World (Mute Records/ August 15 2012)
By Tim Marshall
The ‘difficult second album’, the “sophomore jinx”; call it what you will, but it remains one of the biggest clichés in music writing. Yeasayer’s Odd Blood was a brilliant follow up to their excellent debut All Hour Cymbals and both would feature in my list of the top albums of the 00′s. It is at the third time of asking, however, that the Brookyln-based three piece have come unstuck. The rather limply-titled Fragrant World is not a bad album per se, just disappointing from the standards one would expect from a band as creative as Yeasayer.
It must be a difficult choice; produce more of the same and please the populists, but face accusations of recycling a winning formula, or go too far in a different (often commercial) direction and alienate your original fan base.
The result is some kind of compromise, the classic Yeasayer ‘massive percussion and more instruments that you can shake a synthesised maraca at’ approach is still present but accompanying it is too much introspective and often mid-tempo meandering. The rough edges have been sawn off and what is left feels overly smooth and functional. Unfortunately this is the case for too many of the songs, ‘Blue Paper’ ‘Demon Road’, ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’ (which rips off The Beloved’s ‘Sweet Harmony) and ‘Damaged Goods’ do not match the quality of the first two albums. However, opening track ‘Fingers Never Bleed’ is so good that it will lure me into playing the album again and again just for its addictive chorus. It also introduces the pervading mood of fraught paranoid tension sustained throughout the album. Lyrically, there has been a darker shift from the nonsensical whimsy of Odd Blood to a more dystopian narrative, with prophetic warnings of mankind’s doom and destruction phrased in assuredly cryptic terms.
I was surprised to see that the two tracks the band have chosen to release as singles are ‘Henrietta’ and ‘Longevity’ when for me the obvious choice would be the slightly camp dance floor filler ‘The Devil And The Deed’, which has hipsters throwing shapes in semi-darkness written all over it. This aside, the big difference between Fragrant World and its predecessors is that is a much more cerebral album rather than a beginning to end party soundtrack. It makes you pay more attention to borrow a prog-rock term, to the musical soundscapes most evident on the edgy, trip-hop/electro bhangra madness of ‘No Bones’ and the bizarre disjointedness of ‘Folk Hero Schtick’.
Sadly, this Thursday’s gig in London has been postponed due to family reasons, as it would have been interesting to be able to write this having gauged a live audience’s reaction to the new material. I am hopeful that what frustrates on LP may well be brought to beautiful clarity once it is unpacked and reproduced via grander live medium.