Modern technology shaped Yeasayer's Fragrant World


One of the best ways to hear Yeasayer’s new Fragrant World is in the car—but not just any car.

“My girlfriend had the album in her ’80s CR-V, and she really liked it on a song basis,” reports the Brooklyn-based experimental-pop act’s bassist, Ira Wolf Tuton, on the line from his home. “Then she went riding around in her dad’s new car, which has some kind of fancy Bose stereo, and all of a sudden she heard the rest of the album—everything that’s embedded, all the different layers.”

She was wowed all over again, and that should be a lesson to those primed to hear the new disc on their crappy computer speakers, or even in a hand-me-down Honda. According to Wolf Tuton, he and bandmates Chris Keating and Anand Wilder poured a lot of energy into the follow-up to their 2010 breakout effort, Odd Blood, and it deserves careful attention.

Odd Blood had a high, saccharine sheen to it, so that was something we didn’t want to repeat ourselves with,” he relates. “We wanted to experiment with a little bit more of a heavy, thick, low-end production. All the vocals are treated with different effects from song to song, so that was kind of the jumping-off point.”

Wolf Tuton adds that where Odd Blood relied on ’80s synth sounds, Fragrant World draws more on 21st-century technology. Keating and Wilder’s vocals on songs like the wistful club anthem “Fingers Never Bleed” and the swirling, atmospheric “Henrietta” are electronically altered to sound eerily disembodied, and while it’s possible to distinguish a few relatively conventional bass and guitar parts, most of the backing tracks were generated in the computer, using virtual synths and state-of-the-art samplers.

“Our main agenda always has been to try and continually move forward into different aesthetic territory, and to continually develop how we do things,” says the bassist. “And that keeps it fresh.”

True to that mission statement, Wolf Tuton and company aren’t content with simply reinventing how they work in the studio. Yeasayer’s upcoming North American tour will mark the debut of a new, architect-designed stage and an immersive light show overseen by installation artist and UCLA prof Casey Reas.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about it yet, but in two days word will be out, so I will,” Wolf Tuton says amiably. “We’re kind of in an awesome place, because we’ve allied ourselves with incredibly talented people in all walks of life—be it programmers, architects, or lighting designers—to get to where we are now. I’ve seen different schematics of the design, little vignettes of it, but I’m going to go there right after I talk to you and see how it works out on-stage. But I’m really, really excited, and I think it’s something that’s really special for a band of our size to have the opportunity to do.

“In two days, we go out on tour for six weeks, with a live show the scope of which we haven’t even come close to yet,” he adds. “So there’s a lot of excitement about what we’re going to do over the next month and a half—and it’s definitely going to be a three-dimensional experience!”

Yeasayer plays Malkin Bowl on Wednesday (August 29).

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