When you’re a band with a distinctive sound, the challenge with each release is to create new music that deviates enough from the original that you’re not just recreating your first disc, but not so much that your fans are like, “WTF?” (in a bad way). That’s the problem that Brooklyn-based band Yeasayer faced with their upcoming release, Fragrant World, a dark, weird R&B-tinged effort that treads into territories uncharted while still retaining the band’s trademark mythological/secretly gloomy style. A couple of seconds into the album’s opening track, “Fingers Never Bleed,” it rapidly becomes evident that Yeasayer is creating tunes in a post-The Weeknd/Frank Ocean/SBTRKT world. It’s not that the band is copying those artists per se, but acknowledging that wave of dark, electronic sound.
“[R&B is] one of many influences and styles of music that we all grew up listening to and we all appreciate and really vibe on in different ways,” says bassist Ira Wolf Tuton. “In terms of creating a new and fresh aesthetic, there’s so many valuable sources to pull from, and we hadn’t really explored that vein yet. Our third album was more of a chance to go in that direction — it was obviously something we hadn’t really pushed toward to the first two records. So that was something intentional.”
“We’ve actually been on some cruises in the Baltic that we were using as ferries, but 75-year-old drunk couples were using as a cruise. That was pretty dark.”
Before Yeasayer started recording, they were listening to a lot of bands like Gold Panda and SBTRKT, taking note of what those artists were doing to revolutionize the electronic music realm. “I think now we’re at a time when music reviewers can no longer hear a synthesizer and immediately say it sounds like the ’80s,” Tuton says. “There’s this groundswell that’s pervading popular music that is kind of developing new styles through electronic music.”
Consequently, the band played around with a passel of new techniques and gear on Fragrant World. “We basically tried to engage in how technology is changing and tried to incorporate that and tried to inform stylistic decisions,” Tuton says. “There’s a lot of new software, in-the-box stuff, that you can use right now — format-shifting and melodyne — all kinds of stuff that’s really exciting in the variations that you can do, as opposed to just being that Cher song auto-tuned.”
The band also recorded in New York City — their last disc was created as a kind of all-hours free-for-all in a house in Woodstock, New York — which Tuton says had a definite impact on the finished product. It kept them more focused. More productive. More on task. The result is a record that’s somewhere between the soaring, sun-drenched-colonial-graveyard-by-the-sea feel of debut disc All Hour Cymbals and their poppier, somewhat less consistent followup album, Odd Blood. Songs are not as choral/churchlike as those on All Hour Cymbals (it is an R&B-influenced album, remember), but they’re much more mythological than jams on Odd Blood. Tunes mingle love, science (“Henrietta,” a jam about Henrietta Lacks, who after death became a source for an immortal cell line used in research) and tons of dark, scary story imagery (the track listing is littered with words like “devil,” “bones,” “skeleton” and “demon.” Plus, there are Ronald Reagan zombies, guys, Ronald Reagan zombies).
“I think there’s some darker minor chords, the vocals are lower,” Tuton says of the album’s overall sound. “There’s some more sustain. I think, for us, that’s exciting to create a sonic landscape, to think about music in a cinematic way. That’s the exciting thing about music — being able to elicit not only a sonic experience, but a multi-sensory experience from the listener.”
According to Tuton, the band has also rearranged some of their old songs to fit the feeling of the new stuff in live performances, a revivification that fans will be able to enjoy on tour and during the band’s performances at the upcoming S.S. Coachella: Music Festival at Sea.
“We’ve actually been on some cruises in the Baltic that we were using as ferries, but 75-year-old drunk couples were using as a cruise,” Tuton says. “That was pretty dark. I’m expecting that it will be better than that because we’re going to the Bahamas and it’s not going to be 75-year-old drunk people; it’s going to be 25-year-old drunk people.”
If the cruise goes awry in any way, however, Tuton is ready. “Bring your Cipro. It’s for water-poisoning and all that,” he advises anyone going on one of the two cruises in December. He also suggests bringing a knife [Ed. note: actually, don’t!], a flashlight, a change of socks and some waterproof matches. We would add a notebook to that, Tuton — a waylaid cruise ship sounds like some pretty good material for a fourth album.