Say what you will about Yeasayer's evolution from wishy-washy freak-beat to 80s pop pushers, but their reluctance to stand still is once again evident on the R&B/funk-leaning Fragrant World. Again the change is likely to alienate the fanbase, both long-time members and newbies alike, but whether it'll attract sufficient new blood to replace those lost remains to be seen.
The switch in direction aside, there is however one fairly large problem with Fragrant World and it is a simple one - there's no smash hit. That's not a problem for many bands, but if you're going to write a pop album it pays to follow convention if you wish to be popular. So, as there's no "Ambling Alp" to help steady this expedition into the mainstream, the task falls to next best thing - in this case "Reagon's Skeleton" - and to be fair it does its best, cruising around with an irresistible squelch beneath playful keys that together suggest at the more recent Rapture material as heard through a Scissor Sisters filter. The underlying funk in "Henrietta" isn't bad neither, latterly lurching off into a chillier early morning mist of shimmering synth and maudlin bass hooks borrowed from the recent Twin Shadow LP.
Elsewhere though it's like leafing through an Ikea catalogue of dry suggestion. Though there's a likeable vein of sleepy electro in "Fingers Never Bleed" it's all a little too studied to be svelte and a little too mute to boogie. It's a similar story for "Blue Paper" where eyes-half-mast R&B manoeuvres rub shoulders with disguised guitar licks and those drum machine snaps that everybody's been using. It's ok but where Chris Keating ought to be delirious he sounds tellingly bored.
The Hot Chip-like fidget-pop of "Longevity" feels dated. Better is "Devil And The Deed", which marries breathy vocal and shards of post-punk/electronic interference to produce an almost chart-bothering body-popper, but it's also beset with an unfortunate xylophone line and lands just the wrong side of weird in order to sell it to the masses. In turn, "No Bones" skitters around like a condensed version of Battles' Gloss Drop recreated from memory on some smartphone app. The nauseous blips of "Demon Road" tread no new ground and despite protestations that "all hell is going to break lose" it really doesn't. The remainder of Fragrant World is happy to channel itself into aural shade of beige, Keating pitch-shifting his vocal all over the shop in place of ideas.
You get the impression that Yeasayer think this is dance music, but not party music because it's too cold both thematically and lyrically for anyone to think that. In reality though it's little more the band's most consistent album to date, but that it's all so close to par renders the back-handed compliment pointless. To be more direct therefore, Fragrant World sounds like a band struggling with their identity and it'll take more than another genre switch to fix that.
Advised downloads: "Reagon's Skeleton" and "Henrietta"