Yeasayer are a band who have always been there or thereabouts without ever really hitting the bullseye. Their music has a tendency to be interesting and adventurous in its own way, but not arresting or brilliant, despite their continual efforts and maximalist approach. Their last album, Odd Blood, had a couple of catchy tracks, but the sum of all their avant-garde efforts and out and out weirdness was just that, a catchy couple of songs and a whole load of synthy weirdness. It was a good album, though, and showed potential. Fragrant World, however, is something of a step backwards, which is surprising, considering the amount of effort put into making it progressive.
My main issue with Fragrant World is that all the ideas – and there are lots of them – are thrown in with a sort of scattershot lack of consideration that strikes me as almost childish and naïve. You could almost describe it as artless in its approach. The rhythms stutter and burble, songs break down in the middle, there are bleeps and bloops and it all seems enjoyably kinetic. The effect of all that is going on is that there is nothing really to hold on to. It’s all bluster and effort, but the outcome seems to not have been effectively considered. Maybe you could say that I’m saying it’s not accessible enough, but that’s not it at all. Fragrant World is all bark and no bite.
I’m looking at the album in terms of longevity instead of the immediate effect, which, actually is enjoyable. Never for a moment was I bored, per se, but never either was I sucked into their musical world. A good album should be an engrossing experience, but the impenetrable wall of ever shifting ideas and noises simply does not let you get in. Every time I felt like I was getting it, something shifted and I was immediately ejected. Artists that take similar approaches only succeed when their underlying vision is strong enough to connect those various styles and motifs. There is no such vision here, only a total commitment to wrong-footing the listener. This is okay, but there needs to be something there to tie it all together if it is to hold together as a coherent work.
As it is, though, Fragrant World is interesting, but disconnected and overly difficult to engage with. Maybe it will grow with every listen, but after two or three times I’m done. I still could not hum or sing a single song, or even remember any part of any of it after having listened. That’s after three listens. When an album does not have a single track strong enough to remember after three listens, you know there’s something missing. Yeasayer still have potential, but in order to achieve it they need greater focus and, frankly, to just scale it all back a little bit.