Yeasayer: Apocalyptic Happiness
Fragrant World, Yeasayer’s flawless new beat-synth-and-sample-laden third album, has plenty of pop appeal, but doesn’t abandon the Brooklyn outfit’s signature multi-layered aesthetic. With traceable roots in the tribal-influenced dance elements and textural loops of Odd Blood, Yeasayer showed early indications of a more electronic-based musical trajectory. But on the critically acclaimed sophomore album, they were informed more by beats funneled through a global-minded sonic sensibility. Such is not the case on Fragrant World, where hip-shaking percussive stomps and R&B grooves dominate and the overtly romantic musings of previous efforts (“ Odd Blood was romantic—a little bit of sexy time,” Keating confesses) are replaced by cinematic grandeur, undeniably danceable rhythms and dark lyrical commentary.
While they kept some of the same techniques practiced on past albums, with Fragrant World, they employed new technology, which Keating was more than happy to show off. “Yeah, see these things that he’s putting in this box right there,” he says as he excitedly points to the inconspicuous rectangular boxes housed at each band member’s station in the rehearsal space. “They are sampler controllers that do interesting manipulations of sound. Basically, they have sophisticated and new sampling technology and you can dump sounds into them and manipulate them and get some really cool results. You can take a drum beat and turn it through this filter in there and it will create tonal patterns. It’s like a weird chord structure that essentially comes out of nothing.”
Taking inspiration from Keating’s love of movies, they also borrowed sonic elements from the big screen. “There was this interesting sound design synthesizer we used—a soft synthesizer that’s used for doing movie scores called an Omnisphere,” says the film buff who finds creative stimulation from the minimal soundtracks of obscure auteur Werner Herzog. “It sounds great and weird and kind of has a mind of its own. I like those kinds of happy accidents.”
As surprising as it may seem, Keating wasn’t listening to obscure tunes or even of-the-moment blogger-approved artists—although he claims to stay current with his musical contemporaries—during the songwriting process of Fragrant World. Rather, he digested a lot of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B while writing the new record—think A Tribe Called Quest, Aaliyah and even some Toni Braxton thrown in for good measure.
While Keating didn’t have diva-ish ambitions, the innovative production techniques of the sometimes-frivolous genre inspired him.
“I definitely have always been inspired by legitimately soulful music,” he openly admits. “Trying to bridge that dichotomy between that kind of music and weirdly progressive electronic textural music is something that I don’t think has been done. We’re not rappers and R&B songstresses—not in the public sphere at least—but we’re interested in that style of production.”
Although there might be a perceptible soulful swagger on Fragrant World, don’t expect the lyrics to be all about love—on the contrary, current events, hyperbolized newspaper headlines and a disenchanted view of the political landscape inspired Keating and company.
“When we get around each other we get kind of dark in the way we see the world. So I think some of that was cathartically coming out through the music,” Keating explains. “I also feel like witnessing the rise of [President] Obama with a certain sense of positivity and then [having that] feeling unearthed [by] a really, really disgusting underbelly of deep-seated awful racism, hatred and a despicably backward sentiment [informed the album as well]. I have always written about apocalyptic shit.”
Adds Tuton as he emerges from a back room, cables in hand: “The indie rock world bothers me. I hate its permanent positivity and bubbliness. I think it’s disingenuous, and I don’t relate to it.”
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