In 2012, Yeasayer hit a homerun. That year, they released the record Fragrant World, an album that saw the peak of their mixtures of worldbeat, dance music, prog, psych rock and electronica, producing a hybrid as dark and alluring as it was sensual and propulsive. It was and still is their greatest record, one that captured the frenetic post-9/11 nightmare hellscape we’d all been dealing with as best as they ever have. It proved, it seemed, too high a peak to challenge, because their next album, the spotty Amen & Goodbye, saw a sonic pivot away from the ELO-covering-Sade ADHD blacklight eroticism of its predecessors.
Erotic Reruns is a continuation of the thoughts found on their previous record, reorienting the sonic structures of the band to point them more towards mid-period art pop Bowie. Granted, there’s still lingering elements of the sensuousness of things like ’90s R&B, wise placements of bass hits and drum patterns to produce lightly syncopated beats rather than the more staid and white white white straight ahead beats of a lot of their peers. There’s always been politics in the band, most explicitly on “Reagan’s Skeleton,” and Erotic Reruns doesn’t shy away from cryptic references to the generally apocalyptic political vibe of America near the end of the 2010s. It is, all in all, a good record.
But that’s also precisely the problem. The change in musical scenery seems to have pushed Yeasayer to write decent and compelling songs, but Erotic Reruns lacks that propulsive secret spirit that seemed to motivate their earlier work. The impossible engine of youth has been replaced with admittedly valid weariness from the tedium of the perpetual psychic assault of the Trump administration, but it doesn’t seem to have translated to a consistently transcendent spirit. The song “Let Me Listen In On You” is a rare exception to this fact, an engrossing macro-scale prog-pop epic in under four minutes, a song that feels like being swallowed up into a heartbroken honeycomb world. The other tracks, unfortunately, don’t fare as well as this one.
Which is frustrating precisely because they are not bad songs. “I’ll Kiss You Tonight” has a dark shuffle to it, one that discards depression and rage with sardonic wit. “24-Hour Hateful Live!” is a Bowie-pastiche sax-driven tune that propels with easy power. Perhaps, in retrospect, I am too hard on an album entirely composed of songs that I like. If this is so, it is only because a sense of centralized mood doesn’t seem to be apparent, no overarching statement unifying the experience. Yeasayer have comfortably returned from their nadir of Amen & Goodbye and, given the strength of the strongest material here, seem to be returning to the swing of things. One can only imagine the power these tracks might have live, especially if they were elaborated on a bit more than they are here.
Which leads to perhaps the most profound issue, which is the length of these songs. Only two songs approach four minutes in length with none cresting over, most hovering at just about exactly three minutes long. This is not necessarily a bad length and for some genres it’s perhaps even a bit long, but given the density and rhythmic power of Yeasayer at their best, these are certainly not satisfactory enough to really squeeze all the juice out of the ideas presented. It isn’t so much that every track needs to be a 10-plus minute progressive epic, but at least giving a bit more meat to the bones would make these constellations of strong ideas feel like more proudly developed pieces and in turn make the collection feel more emotionally fulfilling as a unit. As it stands, this just-under-30-minutes LP feels like a slightly long EP, a fine set that could have been great. Album closer “Fluttering in the Floodlights,” a real psychedelic glimmering dance of glitter and throb, gives at least a sense that things will be better in time. Maybe it’s just the fascist rattling us.