What is Yeasayer all about? It’s a question that remains unanswered three albums into the band’s career, with “Fragrant World” adding to the confusion and giving us little sense of the Brooklyn trio’s musical mission and motivation.

Yeasayer is both a beneficiary and victim of timing, having emerged in 2007 among a wave of bands that were helping push indie rock away from its long-favored instrument of choice, the electric guitar. The band received instant attention and acclaim, but being part of an emerging scene means it’s hard to escape similarly-inclined peers. Five years later, bands such as Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective (all of whom also have new albums, and, admittedly, got their starts a few years before Yeasayer) have shaped an identity without limiting their palette. On “Fragrant World,” Yeasayer is simply adrift in a sea of shapeless sounds.

There’s certainly a lot of care put into the sounds. It’s no surprise to find out the album is a self-produced affair, as every keyboard gurgle, whir and spring sounds labored over. As is often the case, the focus on specific sonic detail comes at the expense of fully realized songs. “Demon Road” sounds like four minutes of background noises smushed together at random; “No Bones” is a similar mess of squiggles. The straightforward approach of “Blue Paper” is more rewarding, with a linear structure and cascading keyboards that complement singer Chris Keating’s best vocal melody of the album in the chorus.

Which doesn’t mean that Yeasayer should simply aim for electro-pop bliss. If “Fragrant World” has any defining feature, it’s a shift from atmospheric landscapes to something more funky. The beats on “Henrietta” have serious impact, and as the song drifts from sharp thumps into a dreamy outro, it feels, for a moment at least, as though the band has found an identity it’s been searching for.

David Malitz

Cover art for the Yeasayer album ‘Fragrant World‘ (Courtesy of Secretly Canadian)

Recommended Tracks

“Blue Paper,” “Henrietta”