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Yeasayer: Fragrant World
Note to all musicians: never feed music journalists' expectations of what your highly anticipated new album is going to sound like. If the end result doesn't give them exactly what you promised, you'll pay for it dearly. Point in case: Fragrant World, the latest effort by American indie rockers, Yeasayer. The band teased the music press with their ambition to create a 'demented R&B' record, and the end result is getting panned for not delivering on that promise. Fragrant World can be called a lot of things, but 'demented R&B' is certainly not one of them.
After the release of their second album Odd Blood, Yeasayer were unanimously crowned the new kings of the independent music world. The album was fresh, daring, creative, adventurous and unpredictable. It was pretty much every hipster's wet dream come to life in ten songs. Yeasayer single-handedly recreated 80's music to what it would sound like in the 21st century.
Needless to say, Odd Blood was an album that would be difficult to match, let alone surpass, and expectations for its successor were sky high. The first track released from Fragrant World, ‘Henrietta’, got a lukewarm response, beginning with an upbeat disco tune that gets overpowered by melancholic undertones. It's an ok song, but nothing we haven't heard from Brooklyn bands before.
The first official single ‘Longevity’ is a much slower song, structured on a hip hop shuffle, interrupted by a wailing synth and distorted strings; but again, nothing mind blowing.
Odd Blood was already a big step away from the psychedelic sounds of their debut album All Hour Cymbals; now Yeasayer seem to have completely traded in the guitars for a set of vintage synthesizers, which makes Fragrant World sound darker, almost gloomier, than its predecessor – especially on the aforementioned song ‘Henrietta’, the track ‘Demon Road’ and album closers ‘Folk Hero Schtick’ and ‘Glass Of The Microscope’.
Most songs lack hooks and many parts of Fragrant World sound forced and artificial, to genuinely surprise. The unpredictable outbursts, bordering on sheer musical genius, which were prevalent in Odd Blood, are sorely missed. Fragrant World almost sounds like a step back, or rather a collection of B-sides that never made it onto Odd Blood. It's as if Fragrant World should have been the second album and Odd Blood the logical progression after it.
Had this actually been Yeasayer's second album, all would have been fine. This is the downfall of a band trying to follow-up a flawless album. Ask Radiohead or Pearl Jam, they know all about it. It's like having a Mars bar after devouring a piece of the finest Swiss chocolate; it's certainly not bad, but it pales in comparison to what you had before.
Knowing what Yeasayer are musically capable of, this record unfortunately leaves the listener feeling that something smells a little off in their fragrant world; it will not turn the naysayers into yeasayers.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, ‘Flying To Berlin/Husbands’, Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same.
This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn’t always a good thing.
The opening track, ‘The Answer’, heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words “If you don't love me/You don't love anybody” throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth’s sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record.
That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song ‘Adore’. It’s slow, it’s bassy, it’s reverby (is that even a word?) it’s dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016.
Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, ‘T.I.W.YG’, is almost a sequel to ‘The Answer’ in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love.
For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.