This album smells like treading water
There can’t be many songs these days written from the perspective of a tumour that’s outlived its human host. ‘Henrietta’, the most beautiful moment on Brooklyn trio Yeasayer’s third album, though, is a bubbling electro-rollock that tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Baltimore woman whose cancer cells were preserved for research purposes after she died in 1951. Halfway through the trapdoor opens, and things swirl in slow-mo as a chant of “oh Henrietta, we can live on forever” echoes out. The image of a tumour sprouting lips and taking up crooning might be off-putting, but it’s a special song. There are other good moments – take ‘Reagan’s Skeleton’, which comes on like a wonderfully clunky cousin to Hot Chip’s ‘My Piano’ – but that’s kind of it.
Yeasayer promised ‘Fragrant World’ would be a “demented R&B record”, leading us to hope for the odd-pop of their 2010 ‘Odd Blood’ album crossed with some Timbaland beats. Sadly, set against these lofty ambitions, it disappoints. Instead it’s the band’s experimental electronic album. Songs like ‘Longevity’ swarm with busy cricket clicks and chirrups. But they aren’t so much moving into brave new frontiers as harking back to gleaming ’80s pop. The wet drum snaps and glowy synths of ‘Blue Paper’ are techniques mined so deeply by others that it all ends up sounding a bit La Roux.
There’s nothing far-out enough here to cement Yeasayer as cultish nutter geniuses like, say, Ariel Pink. And there aren’t any ‘Ambling Alp’ style weirdo bangers to take things properly overground. Instead of an album hurtling 100mph in one of those directions, ‘Fragrant World’ feels like the work of a band with stabilisers on.