Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: Mute US
Technology, much like Digoxin - the cardiac medication name-checked on Amen & Goodbye’s adventurous, lead single, “I Am Chemistry” - has a narrow therapeutic range. Too much of either and the results are, potentially, toxic. Experimentation with technology had previously been vital to Yeasayer’s creative process. Yet upon commencing sessions for Amen & Goodbye, the three-piece found their reliance on technology, “psychologically exhausting” and thus decided to record, as a band, directly onto tape.
“Weird” is not often a positive descriptor, but for indie rock explorers Yeasayer, no other starting point seems apt. Amen & Goodbye opens with a psychedelic hymn before bursting into lead single I Am Chemistry, a flurry of Indian instruments, skittering percussion and a list of chemical formulas which lead into a nursery rhyme middle. They have often taken influences from far reaching places, but previous full length Fragrant World was a dour sounding affair – a purposeful antithesis to the more playful Odd Blood.
Brooklyn’s Yeasayer have always thrived on what is sometimes referred to as “maximalism”, which means exactly what you think it does: more is more. They throw everything into the mix, both sonically and lyrically, and while this can often produce catastrophic results, these guys get the balance right and the final product ends up a rich, rewarding experience. That’s the case with their fourth and latest album, anyway.
'I'm so obsessed with whatever the hell this was' reads the top comment on the YouTube page for ‘I Am Chemistry’, the first single from Yeasayer’s fourth album. 'And this kids, is what I call.... uhh.... I don’t know actually' is the second, with 'lolwtf' not far below. And yeah, part of ….
Always challenging themselves and their listeners with a shifting musical paella of contrasting timbres and style influences, Yeasayer were joined by drummer Joey Waronker of Atoms for Peace in a production role during the late stages of their fourth studio album, Amen & Goodbye. In keeping with the bricolage aspect, the recording also features performances from a diverse selection of guests, including folk singer Suzzy Roche and guitar virtuoso Steve Marion aka Delicate Steve (both appear on "Gerson's Whistle"). What proves to be a trademark of the album is introduced in a prologue-type track, the nearly two-minute "Daughters of Cain.
At the turn of the decade, Brooklyn band Yeasayer released their second album, Odd Blood. It was an indie record that generated a terrific amount of buzz, seeing the foursome loosely grouped with slightly eccentric but unashamedly pop-sensible acts such as Vampire Weekend and MGMT. In light of such a trendy start, it’s surprising that this fourth record sounds so much like the work of a band not rooted in time.
Glammy, overwrought hints of Electric Light Orchestra at their most melodramatic, fuzzed-out recorder solos piped through a triple encoder, and the looming influence of the terrifying Hieronymous Bosch and his debauched paintings of hell; Yeasayer’s latest, ‘Amen & Goodbye,’ is an album that refuses to sit still. Worming and writhing its way through mildly sinister ditties about highly poisonous shrubs, barely-composed plunks that fall away into spiky-edged chaos, and twisted medieval pop songs nodding to RuneScape’s ‘Divine Simulacrum’ - of all things - Yeasayer’s boldness and daring reaches the wildest juddering heights of their finest work, 2009‘s ‘Odd Blood’. What’s more, the Brooklyn band often aim higher still.
Critics have always had an uneasy relationship with ambition. It's not that they don't want artists to push envelopes, just that there's an invisible fence within which they like to prescribe the act. Go too far and it's a sprawl, and for fuck's sake, don't let a critic smell the ambition on you or you'll be deemed too clever for your own good. .
Six years have passed since Brooklyn’s Yeasayer released their second album, 2010’s magnificent Odd Blood. It received widespread critical acclaim and looked set to propel the quirky indie outcasts into the mainstream thanks to its irresistible pop anthems, such as Ambling Alp and O.N.E. However, Yeasayer are not ones to bow to convention, something they subsequently demonstrated with their experimental third album, Fragrant World.
The course of true originality never did run smooth. Masters of pop experimentation, Yeasayer have served some hits and misses in their time. Their second LP Odd Blood paved the way for their joyous, odd-pop style, whilst the more experimental Fragrant World failed to hit the mark. It's been a decade since they began and their offbeat sound remains nestled closely alongside fellow purveyors of psychedelia like Animal Collective and TV and the Radio.
Yeasayer have never been short on ideas. Since their 2007 debut LP, All Hour Cymbals, they’ve cherry-picked spiritual sounds and symbols from around the world, reaching for multisyllabic words and heady references. Odd Blood pushed that through more traditional pop structures, though the effortful weird remained — lyrics filtered through the voice of Fox News commentators, Celtic verse, a Colombian drug kingpin, and boxer Joe Louis.
In 2009, Yeasayer's Chris Keating surprised fans by abandoning the comfortably pastoral landscape of All Hour Cymbals to guest on Simian Mobile Disco’s farcical electro-house banger “Audacity of Huge. ” At the time, this decision seemed unusual for a number of reasons: Here was a guy who sang “we can all grab at the chance to be handsome farmers” when indiedom was cresting peak plaid, now ironically bragging about his “Damien Hirst telephone” and “Kool-Aid swimming pool. ” The lyrics were clever in an era when hipster-bashing was particularly hip (the “bag of Bill Murray” line still scans as prescient in a post-Miley/molly world), but the move added to the already-nagging suspicion that Keating and Co.
If there’s a suspicion that Brooklyn’s Yeasayer try just a little too hard, it’s not a feeling that their fourth LP is going to disprove; Amen and Goodbye is that strange combination of quirky yet over-polished – pristine pop with all of the interesting spikiness filed down. A succession of musical concepts, interspersed with the occasional instrumental thrown in to warp the context, yet as lead track I Am Chemistry demonstrates, such ideas are scattered indiscriminately – it’s akin to heading out wearing seven or eight scarves. Much more successful – the slow-burn ballad of Prophecy Gun; the straight-ahead pop of Dead Sea Scrolls – is when the band stop telling us how clever they are, allowing melody and subtlety to take prominence.
There’s no denying the influence of chemical enhancement—or at least the hazy trappings of it—on Yeasayer’s music, but to dismiss or define what the Brooklyn band does as simply “druggy” misses so many other fitting descriptors. Its fourth album, Amen & Goodbye, is florid, psychedelic, poppy, complicated, aggressive, touching, and gorgeous in various measures. And sure, it’s druggy, too.
EXPLORING THE AESTHETIC MOTIVE of Brooklyn-based quartet Yeasayer is a lot like playing golf for the first time: We wish desperately for there to be some secret trick to understanding it in totality, but if there is, there’s no way in hell anyone’s going to figure it out overnight, so it’s probably best to just sit back, pound a sixer of Milwaukee’s Best and drive the cart. In this case, drive the cart = not be so analytical. And this is by no means an insult to Yeasayer.