Following the self-consciously arty impulses of 2007′s All Hour Cymbals and the heightened accessibility of 2010′s Odd Blood, Fragrant World is Yeasayer’s synthesis move: Pitting the band’s strongest batch of songs against its most jarring sounds, it radiates the tension of its opposing impulses and resolves them with rhythm. Described by the band during its creation as “demented R&B,” it’s by far their most danceable record; you could play at a party and keep everyone on the floor.
With several tours now under his belt, Chris Keating flaunts newfound vocal confidence; even when he’s chosen fairly arcane subject matter – lead single “Henrietta” is about a woman whose rare form of cancer allowed her cells to continue growing after she died – he’s emoting something, even if much of it suggests dread. Like much of instrumentation, though, his voice is subject to plenty of dubby/distorting/estranging effects; on “Glass of the Microscope,” he’s overdubbed into creepy choirs of uncanny harmony. Evoking the era suggested by its title, “Reagan’s Skeleton” flaunts familiar New Order motifs, but surrounds them with rattling percussion and disquieting chords.
“Damaged Goods” best represents the album’s dialectic: It starts with unsettling synths and thumping bass drum, then adds the quasi-Middle Eastern twists that initially saddled Yeasayer as world music hippies. Then the chorus kicks in, and its instantly hooky melody feels uplifting, even as its lyrics despair. These are the strangely satisfying contradictions of a band that balanced itself by accentuating its extremes.