Album review: Yeasayer, 'Fragrant World'

3.5 stars (out of 4)

When the bass shakes walls on the penultimate track, “Folk Hero Shtick,” the point of Yeasayer’s hyperactive “Fragrant World” (Secretly Canadian) comes clear. The Brooklyn trio stabs at alien R&B on their third studio album, with hints of David Bowie’s late ‘70s “plastic soul” and Berlin-era experiments, a nerds-gone-wild version of club music.

In contrast to the tidier, more accessible anthems on their well-received first two albums, “All Hour Cymbals” (2007) and “Odd Blood” (2010), Yeasayer goes a bit bonkers here. “Fragrant World” may initially come off as messy, even chaotic. But the trio of Anand Wilder, Chris Keating and Ira Wolf Tuten are on to something worth absorbing all the same.

Yeasayer’s nontraditional ideas about percussion flourish, from the electronic snap, crackle and pop of the opening “Fingers Never Bleed” through the metallic cling-clang that becomes the unexpected focal point of “Damaged Goods.” “Devil and the Deed” drops bass bombs, then sends mallets flying across what sounds like an array of toy marimbas. “No Bones” cracks open into a handclapping breakdown. A back-bending keyboard riff snakes through “Devil and the Deed.” 

Amid the rhythm parade, bursts of noise and splashes of menacing synthesizers that make this album the darkest Yeasayer yet. Death is a running theme, the notion that there’s no such thing as “Longevity” in a life connected by random moments. “Henrietta” provides a glimmer of hope, such as it is; it pays tribute to a cancer victim whose damaged cells lead to a scientific breakthrough so that others can live. It slinks across the dancefloor, before winding up as a twisted android-choir elegy. Just when the listener least expects it, a hook or a snippet of melody surfaces, and the songs sink in for an extended stay.

greg@gregkot.com

 

CHICAGO
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