ver since their first album release in 2007, the innovation of Brooklyn four-piece Yeasayer has put them forward as one of the most creative names in experimental rock. The band (comprising Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Turton, Anand Wilder and Cale Parks) have been slipping into the avant-garde ever since, but it’s in ‘Amen and Goodbye’ – their latest release with Mute Records – that they’ve made something truly idiosyncratic.
‘Amen and Goodbye’ leans in a slightly different direction to the electronic pop of 2010’s ‘Odd Blood’ or 2013’s ‘Fragrant World’ – Yeasayer have jilted away from entirely computer-borne, electronically-generated songs in favour of recording live and remixing later, like the good ol’days. They even decided to shun New York and make the album in a retreat studio nestled amongst the Catskill Mountains instead, in a bid to retract from the digital world in favour of something more pastoral (they were occasionally interrupted from their recording every now and again because chickens had run into the studio). Their withdrawal into bucolic bohemia really highlights their attitude towards making this album – Yeasayer made ‘Amen and Goodbye’ wanting to produce something they hadn’t done before – or what anyone has done before, really. Indeed, the sonics of this album are truly extraordinary – from the barbershop ‘ba ba ba ba bayuh’s of ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ to the shimmery electronic synth of ‘Silly Me’, Yeasayer are changing up their sound for each song – or each verse, in the case of 3-songs-in-1, ‘I Am Chemistry’, which comes complete with a child choir and haunting guest vocals from The Roches’ Suzzy Roche.
Yeasayer seem to possess the same desire for identity reinvention on each record that was carried off so brilliantly by Bowie and The Beatles (both of whom Keating has listed as big influences). But whilst Yeasayer’s sonic palette seems to be currently on a quest for reinvention, much of the lyrical content here returns to what has been explored before; religious themes, in particular, have long been a big part of Yeasayer’s back catalogue. What is it in this day and age, they ask, to believe? The very album title of ‘Amen and Goodbye’ at once returns to this theme, as does ‘Daughters of Cain’, its opening track. ‘Are we the sons of Seth and the daughters of Cain, preparing for the flood from all the rain?’ it begins, ‘or are we the logos in neurons of the brain?’ Keating, Turton, Wilder and Cale are not religious men, but they’re constantly seeking to explore why that is through their music – what it is about religion that simultaneously frustrates and confounds them. Just as in their previous albums, Yeasayer are not a band that shy away from the big questions – their boldness is intriguing, no matter your own religious outlook.
But anyway. Back to the music. This is an adventurous album – it’s rich with instruments and sounds, and the recurring vocals from folk legend Suzzy Roche steals the show whenever she appears. Still, there are moments on the album that are pushing things just a bit too far to be taken seriously. Many of tracks on the first part of the album – ‘I Am Chemistry’, ‘Silly Me’, ‘Divine Sacrulum’ – are overflowing with so many different sounds to the point that it becomes overwhelming – and ‘Child Prodigy’, a track halfway through the album, is literally just sixty seconds of a harpsichord and the sounds of audience clapping. Brash? Bold? Or just annoying?
YEASAYER SEEM TO POSSESS THE SAME DESIRE FOR IDENTITY REINVENTION ON EACH RECORD
Once that cursed harpsichord solo is out the way, though, ‘Amen and Goodbye’ slips away from all that darn clapping into the lulls of ‘Gerson’s Whistle’, featuring another stellar appearance from Suzy Rocche. It’s followed by gently charming ‘Uma’, a lullaby inspecting the relationship between a father and their newborn child: ‘and in our overlapping lives, 30 years on either side / never thought I’d be surprised that I’m alive when you’re alive…’ It’s a tender, welcome relief from that darn harpsichord – a quietly beautiful, playful introspective of that relationship (‘hope I can still make you smile when I get to be senile’). ‘Cold Night’, the next track, is similarly strong; it’s a poignant, touching reflection on the death of a friend.
Undeniably, Yeasayer set out to make something different when they made this record – but it’s in these last couple of songs, though, that ‘Amen and Goodbye’ really begins to find its groove. Forget the multi-hooked audacity of ‘I Am Chemistry’; Yeasayer shine brightest when they’re not trying to be daring. The simple tenderness of ‘Uma’ and ‘Cold Night’ is where the album is most powerful; they’re not being courageous, they’re just giving off raw emotion. And you really feel it.