The line that Baltimore-to-Brooklyn transplants Chris Keating and Anand Wilder have been floating to describe the third release by their psychedelic-pop/electronic worldbeat quintet Yeasayer is that it was strongly inspired by the late R&B icon Aaliyah. By that, they certainly don’t mean her creepily titled, R. Kelly-helmed debut Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, but her last two albums, in particular her collaborations with producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, which remain some of the most expansive and inventive music the genre ever has produced.
What this boils down to on Fragrant World is an increased emphasis on the rhythms, which, for all the love showered upon the group’s ethereal but effective melodies, have always been every bit as important a part of the mix. Too many critics slight the second half of that equation “psychedelic-pop/electronic worldbeat” noted above, even though the group recorded its last album Odd Blood (2010) at the upstate New York studio run by Jerry Marotta, the drummer for Peter Gabriel’s band during his best period in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when cymbals were banned in favor of tom-heavy African grooves.
Twisting and turning like a pair of copulating snakes, the bass, drums, and burbling analog synthesizers entrance with their mixture of African, Middle-Eastern and dub grooves throughout these 11 tracks, propel you ever forward, though never in a straight line. This is not to slight Wilder’s sometimes searing guitar, however, or his and Keating’s wispy vocals and sunny hooks, which still are present in abundance on tracks such as “Henrietta” and “Damaged Goods,” and which contrast delightfully with a darker strain in lyrics newly filled with paranoia and pessimism.
Don’t forget, dark thoughts can be part of a psychedelic experience every bit as much as revelation and that fabled journey toward the white light. In the end, though, the good vibes of the rhythms prevail, and despite the naysayers, Yeasayer delivers its strongest album yet.
Yeasayer, Fragrant World (Secretly Canadian)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.