Yeasayer Confounds Expectations

In the new millenium, genre-bending music has become a genre unto itself. Musicians such as Danger Mouse and M.I.A. have built careers on calling attention to the seams that connect seemingly disparate pop aesthetics.

Up until now, Yeasayer’s underground success has traded on blurring genres, first with psychedelia and world music on their 2007 album All Hour Cymbals and again by adding dance-infused synth to the equation on 2010’s Odd Blood.

Now, the Baltimore-via-Brooklyn group seems intent on confounding expectations by moving to almost entirely electronic-inspired sounds on their latest album Fragrant World.

Though Yeasayer has not abandoned their trademark stylistic experimentation, the group grounds the entire album in the world of party-centric dance music.

Ira Wolf Tuton, one of the band’s three core members, views the transition as a natural extension of their sound and thinks Yeasayer’s ever-growing fan base will hear the music on its own terms as dance music breaks away from old associations.

“We’re at a time when electronic music is coming into the mainstream,” he explained. “When someone makes an electronic pop album, it will no longer be immediately referenced to the 80s.”

Nonetheless, the trio does plenty to subtly skew their music left of center. Single “Henrietta” introduces dub-inspired bass destined to destroy Macbook speakers, and standout “Blue Paper” features a hook that recalls 90s-radio R&B.

According to Tuton, Yeasayer finds its distinct sound from the melding of a variety of inspirations.

“If anything, genre comes from asking ‘what’s going to influence this song?’ and then mixing and mashing these different ideas,” he said.

This sentiment can be most vividly heard on late-album track “Reagan’s Skeleton”, which is perhaps the only song on Fragrant World that truly can be referenced to the 80s, specifically as a politically-charged misremembering of Thriller-era Michael Jackson.

Here, the aesthetic is the content. Yeasayer comments on the Republican Party’s ideological exhumation of former President Ronald Reagan by themselves, drudging up decades-old musical platitudes.

Tuton frequently returns to the idea of aesthetic, shedding light on Fragrant World‘s sonic left turn. He explains that much of the tonality of band’s first album sounded like “real, wooden, hollow world instruments,” but notes that much of it was digitally created.

“We were not trying to make an album that sounded like world music,” he said.

The tones on Fragrant World sound far from digital MIDI mimicry, but instead summon images of veteran musicians experimenting with hardware previously inaccessible to them.

“The longer we’ve recorded, the more our eyes have been opened up to a lot of different equipment,” tuton explained.

While the music is decidedly intellectual, Fragrant World is primarily an album to be felt, not picked over. The visceral collection is meant to soundtrack parties and clubs, and will most likely yield a handful of excellent remixes.

If Odd Blood was Yeasayer in transition, Fragrant World the celebratory payoff.

— By Jordan Francis