Recent years in pop music have been characterized by their throwback quality, with ‘80s New Wave synth popping up around every corner, making contemporary tunes sometimes indistinguishable from the styles of decades gone by. But where other bands struggle to make these sounds fresh, Yeasayer’s third full-length, Fragrant World, smooshes the synthy beats of artists like Depeche Mode with ‘90s-era R&B and contemporary electronic music to make a record that’s all their own.
Clearly influenced by the bizarro beats Timbaland compiled for artists like Missy Elliott and Aaliyah, Yeasayer imbue Fragrant World with an otherworldly quality. Here, organic sounds are distorted by effects to meld virtually undetected into electronic production elements, as with the stuporous horns on album opener “Fingers Never Bleed” or the toy store rave breakdown of “Devil and the Deed.”
A knack for hooks is among the qualities that launched Yeasayer to the top of the indie pile, and in that arena, Fragrant World doesn’t disappoint. Just try to keep from singing along to the vaguely industrial earworm “Reagan’s Skeleton” or listen to the funky, bass-driven lead single “Henrietta” without swaying your hips. There is a smattering of duds here, like the Hot-Chip-meets-The-Knife tangle of “No Bones” or the gratuitously stinging lyrics of “Folk Hero Shtick” (though the boys should be commended for the suave way they incorporate folksy guitar and flute into the song’s arrangement). But overall, Fragrant World is a sexy, infectious compilation of conventional musical tropes, filtered through Yeasayer’s dark kaleidoscope.