Yeasayer’s eternal glitch-pop aesthetic strides the ever-shrinking gap between their vaguely disparate demographics: rave-savvy festival-goers and collared-shirted public-radio aficionados. How a band whose overly ambitious inclusions from so many genres—psychedelia, world music, 1990s house, not to mention obvious Beatles influences—has shrunken into an easily palatable omni-marketable brand is, to say the least, an underwhelming feat.
Their third album, with its painfully twee title, Fragrant World, seems to shuck off any trace of true experiment and settle, instead, for recycling the dance-inflected digressions of their solid sophomore release, Odd Blood, repackaging them into tediously voluble, monotonous pop-friendly beats. Which is to say, with very few exceptions does Fragrant World diverge at all from the better achievements of Odd Blood—so don’t expect any breakthroughs here.
This doesn’t mean that we’re lacking in pitch-perfect singles—the semi-ballad “Henrietta,” for one, with its incorporation of actual organic-sounding guitar strums and spacey breakdowns, hearkens back to some of the band’s more interesting pop landscapes. The “Devil and the Deed” is another highlight, mostly in its total pop forthrightness—its rumbling bassline and gasp-y, plaintive chorus sounds more like a banger from Rihanna (or some other R&B starlet of the moment). The follow-up single, “Longevity,” targets the NPR crowd, with its tastefully sluggish melody, disco violins, and generally upbeat lyrical message.
For all its good intentions, Fragrant World is by no means an unlikable album. It’s just too likable, too anodyne, too furry around the edges. Yeasayer have arguably been heading this direction from their very inception, but, generally, pop music can only be at its most stimulating when pushing against some boundary, no matter how safely. Note-for-note replications of a band’s previous successes have a tendency to drain all the excitement out of a new release. Yeasayer’s only triumph here is perfecting a niche they’ve already seemed to master.