Simon Jay Catling
, August 29th, 2012 02:42
If Yeasayer's second album Odd Blood ditched their debut All Hour Cymbals' gathering of influences beyond western hemisphere pop, then Fragrant World is another noticeable, if somewhat less pronounced, step in the collective's continuing attempts at keeping up with the vogueish concerns of their contemporaries. In 2010, it seemed pretty clear that they were after a bit of what the likes of electro-indie crossover acts such as MGMT and Phoenix had been enjoying over the previous couple of years. This time round, the success of bands like The xx, a greater emphasis by the blogging community towards solo songwriters/bedroom producer-types and, of course, the infiltration of post-dubstep into wider circles – to name but three movements – has led to the feeling that artists currently finding consensual-critical acclaim are those of a more introverted nature. And so, despite all signs pointing to Yeasayer being at their best when doing pretty much the opposite, they've attempted to follow suit.
Fragrant World sounds forcibly restrained, a record made by a band who've turned up to a party after shovelling a smorgasbord of industrial-strength uppers down their gullets en route, only to open the door and find a bookish gathering smoking weed, listening to 90s-era Portishead and discussing Kafka. Perhaps it's understandable that there's a calculatedness to the resultant sound; coming from one of the most judgemental playgrounds of all, Brooklyn, Yeasayer are, after all, aware more than most which way the stylistic pendulum is swinging.
Boy, though, this latest smash & grab fistful of influences doesn't suit them well. "The emperor standing naked, how much longer can he fake it," Chris Keating sings on 'Folk Hero Schtick', and though you stop short of thinking "well, indeed", you do wonder whether he's displaying a startling lack of self-awareness. Frequently, they just sound bored. An eyes-down shuffler of an opener in 'Fingers Never Bleed' is subdued compared to the bright explosions and sharp bursts of energy that previously defined the band. 'Longevity' and 'Blue Paper' are so vapid as to not be worth being there, severely damaging early on the likelihood of the LP ever gaining any serious momentum. In the former's case, the swooping melodic instrumental elements that break away from the beat even sound as though they're yawning. It sets the tone for an album that, certainly at first glance, struts and grooves as sexily as before, yet never once reaches even close to the previous absurdities that made you giggle in sheer pleasure at their defiant lack of cool.
Occasionally they do tease with the a hope of return to previous form. For a very brief moment 'Henrietta' sounds like it's about to jump off into something akin to Battles' 'Wall Street', only to revert to a polished but uninspired late-night disco jam. 'Reagan's Skeleton' possesses a bit more pizzazz still, leveling out an obligatory dash of bass wobble with something approaching a quickening pulse; 'Demon Road' hints ever so indirectly at some of the more Eastern influences that tip-toed delicately around their debut, among the rest of the track's pirouetting synths and robotic vocal enhancements.
"In truth we're doomed, consumed by drug fumes that'll kill you," Keating wearily intones on final track 'Glass Of The Microscope'. Though this sentiment provides a chance for the mind to race back through the previous ten songs and ponder whether, maybe, the lethargic aesthetic of Fragrant World is intentional, and that, following the multi-coloured carnival of Odd Blood, this is their pointed after-hours comedown LP, it's not enough of a disclaimer to save what amounts to an occasionally flourishing, but largely frustrating and tedious record. Next time, hopefully Yeasayer might find something they can make use of with a little more of the wide-eyed enjoyment that assisted them so ably through their first chameleonic shift. Better still, they could simply drop the approximations of what's going on around them, and try to look within themselves a little more.