Image courtesy of Yeasayer
Review by Jacob Douglas
It’s clear that with Amen & Goodbye, experimental-pop act Yeasayer’s fourth album, the band wants you to write: “return to form!” and “most cohesive work to date!” The trio’s last studio album, 2012’s Fragrant World, was received mildly by fans and critics alike, and despite tours (including a Brown Spring Weekend ‘15 appearance) and some scattered remixes, the band has largely faded from view in the interim four years. It seems the band knew their work was cut out for them in terms of making their way back into the fray: Amen & Goodbye’s press push has included features on the album’s impressive artwork, by Canadian sculptor David Altmejd, and its first track arrived after a series of cryptic hype-building YouTube snippets. Yet, Yeasayer have always been somewhat of a singles band – have they succeeded with Amen & Goodbye in crafting a fuller album?
At the very least, Amen & Goodbye initially delivers on this promise of ambition. Following the invocation of sorts that is “Daughters of Cain,” highlight “I Am Chemistry” shows Yeasayer at their best. The layered song sees the band display their knack for mixing disparate sounds while still being overtly catchy. Under the subtly disturbing lyrics – which reference a number of deadly chemicals – flows a driving bassy melody, but the song remains loose, with a woozy buildup and subsequent choir-led breakdown. The following track, “Silly Me,” sees less of an emphasis on sonic sculpture and more on straightforward pop, though it retains a certain off-kilter weirdness beneath its hooky chorus. The infectious “Dead Sea Scrolls” follows in similarly pop-y footsteps, while again the band blends numerous sonic parcels, emulsifying elements of Theremin, bright sax hits and rolling post-punk bass, peaking with a processed saxophone solo that sounds like the unholy offspring of an oboe and violin. Filling out the record’s strong opening section is the mellow psych-folk of “Half Asleep,” which would fit in perfectly with material from the band’s first album. This marks the first time Yeasayer has returned to the sound that first put them on the map – happily, the sitar-textured track delivers.
However, the album loses momentum as it moves past its opening quintet of tracks. The warbling electronic build of “Prophecy Gun” lacks the emotion or the payoff to truly work, and the bands whiffs with last two full-length tracks, “Uma” and “Cold Night,” neither of which are particularly interesting. And while the Celtic folk-like touches of “Gerson's Whistle” are nice, one wishes Yeasayer would’ve stuck with a more cohesive melody and song structure, the ambition slightly outpacing the songwriting.
With Amen & Goodbye, it’s clear Yeasayer was trying to create an album that felt diverse and driven, with a return to a wider sonic palette than the oppressive synths of Fragrant World. Yet outside of a few strong cuts, the record mostly just comes off as pleasant and not particularly memorable, despite none of the individual tracks being bad (not counting the somewhat unnecessary interludes). Yeasayer has always struggled with consistency, but here the consistency is all for naught, as the album lacks anything approaching the exuberant bizarro-pop excellence of their best tracks, like “Ambling Alp” or “O.N.E.” The band still has a knack for crafting interesting sound and eschewing standard production choices, but if anything, Amen & Goodbye comes off as slightly flat, or perhaps too mature, as the album sheds some of the looseness that carried their best work. While Yeasayer may still lack a definitive album, Amen & Goodbye doesn’t sully their image, and it will yield at least a few tracks to add to a stellar “Best of Yeasayer” playlist.