Yeasayer's third album, Fragrant World, is a hulking beast of a record. Keyboards clank and wheeze, tiny claps stumble against busted drum machines, and there's very little obvious guitar. It's an album that grapples with the schizophrenia of the modern world by gathering piles of electronics and molding them into something huge and often gorgeous.
After touring endlessly in support of 2010's Odd Blood, Chris Keating, Ira Wolf-Tuton and Anand Wilder holed up in Gary's Electric Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to record Fragrant World, working away as the borough transitioned from fall to winter. While Odd Blood played with electronic textures and future paranoia, Fragrant World fully immerses itself in those themes, virtually dripping with worry, love, and concern for the planet we live on. Keating bleats and yammers his lyrics—sometimes, like on "Longevity," piling so many effects on his voice that the music takes on an otherworldly sheen. In direct contrast are Wilder's vocal contributions, which hover serenely over droning synths on "Blue Paper," and later weave in and out of staccato hand claps, and what sounds like a vintage computer dying, on "Devil and the Deed."
Across Fragrant World's 11 tracks, genre mashing is taken from a broad spectrum of sources: updated takes on dusky pop, jittery funk, exotic keyboard experimentation, haunting whirs of backward organ, exuberant bass, etc. "I wanted to make a record that was legitimately, to use a bad word, funky," Chris Keating told Under the Radar magazine. Even at it's darkest, that statement holds true. On their first single and album centerpiece, "Henrietta," Keating is in great form. The track is loosely based on Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells were cultured by a doctor in the 1950s without her permission. Those cells would later go on to be the most commonly used human cell line for medical research. Keating teases out universal ideas from bizarrely specific moments in history, repeating the refrain, "we will live on forever," referencing Lacks' story directly, contrasted against a darkly optimistic worldview. It's a risky move, but it pays off.
It's a testament to their sound and the unique identity they've carved out for themselves in the music community. They've managed to grow and expand into what they are now without losing touch with what made them so compelling in the first place: their willingness to pull from every musical source imaginable. Whether it's the warped and clipped alien-dancefloor banger "No Bones" that has strong ties to Timbaland's most experimental work for Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, or the gothic, almost industrial pulse of "Reagan's Skeleton," Yeasayer are truly making 21st century music. Couched in healthy fear, yet unafraid to move forward and expand, pulling in new influences just as frequently as new worries, Yeasayer have created a difficult, dense and beautiful record. It's as much a synthesis of the last three decades of pop music as it is a new way of grappling with the end of time.
Fragrant World was produced by Yeasayer.