Brooklyn's Yeasayer's evolution has always been based on a near-constant juggling of disparate sounds; the sound combinations have just been different from album to album. While 2007's All Hour Cymbals melded the watery drugged-out ethno-pop of Animal Collective or MGMT with muscular classic rock tendencies, 2010's follow-up, Odd Blood, traded yelpy vocals for a more front-and-center approach and attempted to merge brittle electronica with bigger-budget pop production. Fragrant World, the band's third full-length, follows this ever-changing pattern, leaning on R&B-informed beats, bleating synth tones, and Chris Keating's pleadingly romantic vocals. The result is the most pop-friendly and dance-oriented Yeasayer material to date, coming off like some futuristic Top 40 pop where the sonic hooks we're used to are insidiously replaced by strange alien sounds and off-kilter (if still bangin') club rhythms. Like their peers Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer have embraced the influence of smoothed-out '90s R&B and sought to meld it with vaguely Eastern sounds. Songs like "Longevity" see this slick blue-eyed R&B colliding with moody live strings and heavily processed samples. "Henrietta" mashes uneasy synth tones with hooks sounding like a more demented dub mix of a forgotten Duran Duran B-side. The band's experimentation is running at a controlled high, and at its best the band pushes the pop form to unfathomable limits without completely losing the plot or disintegrating into self-indulgent hodgepodge. Songs like the bombastic "Reagan's Skeleton" recall the cold precision of LCD Soundsystem or Daft Punk and "Devil and the Deed"'s glitchy production is frenetic as it is catchy. Fragrant World is a hallucinatory take on dance music, and the band employs a rainbow of textures and production techniques so dense that much of the nuance of the songs is easy to miss on the first two or three go-rounds. By the time "Folk Hero Shtick" rolls around near the album's close, the song's skittering from Pink Floyd-ish melodies and fingerpicked acoustic guitar breakdowns to electronic bass swells and found-sound synth tones is nothing short of head-spinning. While Yeasayer manage to avoid sounding over-produced or purposefully obtuse, the sheer volume of seemingly mismatched elements they throw out creates a thick veneer and demands the listener keep up with the walls of vocodered vocals, subtle electronic flourishes, and warped takes on mainstream pop production. For those willing to rise to the challenge, Fragrant World has a wealth of obscured moments of bizarre genius. They don't hand them over willingly, but with a little digging, incredibly interesting ideas are just below the surface. ~ Fred Thomas, Rovi
Don’t judge a book by its cover… or an album by its first track. Odd Blood gets off to an odd start with “The Children” -- a robotic, plodding song that prizes mood over melody -- before settling into a more balanced groove, mixing the multicultural sounds of Yeasayer's debut with a new emphasis on electronica, global trip-hop, and digital production. Like All Hour Cymbals, this is a thinking man’s album, one that requires its listeners to put on their thinking caps as well as their dancing shoes. It’s more urban than its predecessor, though, with most songs ditching the tribal harmonies and lo-fi analog ambience of the band’s earlier work in favor of an electric, textured sound. “Love Me Girl,” with its mix of Balearic beat keyboards and sampled female vocals, could have come from an Ibiza nightclub, while “Madder Red” strikes an unlikely balance between synth pop, Middle Eastern folk, and ‘80s dance music. Anand Wilder often abandons his guitar entirely, focusing instead on the keyboards that serve as Odd Blood’s bedrock, and he sings the latter song in a voice that’s clear, pleasant, and devoid of the yelping that characterized some of All Hour Cymbals’ tracks. Chris Keating has similarly improved, so much so that he delivers a rather stunning ballad -- the Air-influenced “I Remember” -- with warmth and understated confidence. Odd Blood’s emphasis on genre-mashing can overwhelm the weaker tunes, whose melodies are sometimes less interesting than the arrangements themselves, but the album has enough highlights to outweigh any filler on side B. All in all, this is a rare sophomore album that widens the band's sound without narrowing its appeal. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi
With its mixture of world music rhythms, western pop structures, and ethnic weirdness, Yeasayer's debut finds a home somewhere between the trendy bars of Brooklyn and the villages of developing countries. On paper, the album looks like an all-out mess, a jumbled pile of sitars, synths, bongos, sequencers, fretless bass, choir harmonies, and whatever else Yeasayer deems necessary to conjure up the globetrotting images that fuel these 11 tracks. But All Hour Cymbals rarely strains under its own weight, even when it mixes Beach Boys harmonies with minimalist art rock ("No Need to Worry") or steel drums with sludgy, Sabbath-styled metal ("Wait for the Wintertime").
New York City has hosted its share of experimental bands in the early 21st century, from TV on the Radio to Animal Collective to the otherworldly experiments of Grizzly Bear. Still, Yeasayer's appeal is not that they're otherworldly, but are instead entirely grounded in this world. Rarely does a debut album sound so geographic, so well-traveled -- even if the journey through All Hour Cymbals feels slightly odd, as if the bandmates constructed some Paleozoic musical map in their heads where the landmasses of Africa and America had been pushed together, blending the disparate traditions and instruments from both continents. Sequencers figure prominently in some songs, but they're trumped by the clannish, tribal sounds that bring Yeasayer back to earth: the polyphonic percussion, the chant-like melodies, the Middle Eastern influences. Throughout it all, the band remains rooted in pop music, and songs like "2080" (which was tossed around the Internet in early 2007, bouncing from blog to blog in a game of hipster hot-potato) have instantly memorable hooks and gorgeous, airy harmonies.
The real treat is when those styles collide -- the western and the Middle Eastern, the urban and the native -- as they do on "Wait for the Summer," where guitarist/vocalist Anand Wilder echoes the anticipation of many an American grade-schooler ("Wait for summer, we'll sleep when we wanna") over a bed of sitars and vaguely foreign scales. Who cares if it's often hard to hear what Wilder is saying? His melodies are mumbled, harmonized, repeated, and hidden under piles of instruments, so they may as well be delivered in some indigenous language by the time all is said and done. "Wait for the Summer" consequently comes across as ritualistic, something with which to praise the sun or awaken the rain gods, but it also serves as a bizarre "School's out!" anthem for the indie crowd. Could Yeasayer be indie rock's answer to the absence of adventurous worldbeat figures like David Byrne and Peter Gabriel? It's too early to tell, but All Hour Cymbals is a mature, cohesive, and highly recommended debut. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi