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Yeasayer Transcends Time and Space on 'Amen & Goodbye'

Music ReviewWeston PaganoComment

There are few bands that can evolve as effortlessly as trio of art rock Brooklynites, Yeasayer. On their fourth LP, Amen & Goodbye, they don’t just reconcile the worldbeat freak rock of All Hour Cymbals, psychedelic pop of Odd Blood, and brooding, dark electronica of Fragrant World, but manage to transcend time and space itself with a mélange of biblical allusions, futuristic sound, and countless other seemingly disparate stylistic and thematic juxtapositions.

Switching from their one figure per album cover tradition to a Sgt. Pepper’s-esque tableau immediately visualizes this idea of there being many influences (A&G is also, appropriately, the first time they enlisted an outside producer), but while The Beatles used their identity experiment to sever themselves from their past, in a way Yeasayer solidifies and combines theirs. Both groups took the chance to evolve, though, and Yeasayer evolve forwards, backwards, and sideways across boundaries in all directions simultaneously, exhibited especially in the interludes that punctuate A&G with a sort of time-traveled erraticism across “Computer Canticle 1”’s tech hymn of tribal space noise and “Child Prodigy”’s baroque celebration.

The recording process too felt an odd situational paradox - recording live as a band for the first time in the wilderness of upstate New York, Yeasayer had to battle the audible hum of a nearby electric fence or wrangle escaped goats if they turned it off. With normally only about two and a half year breaks in between full-lengths, A&G required an atypically long four to procure, explained at least in part by a rainstorm leak damaging much of their tapes (such are the dangers of analogue recording). Not all was lost, however, with that same precipitation providing the rainfall background to “Gerson’s Whistle,” which appropriately concludes, “Troublemakers make the world go round.” 

It’s no mistake Yeasayer both references the similarly wet Genesis tale of the Great Deluge in album opener “Daughters of Cain” and shows a rotting, severed Trump dictator head in “I Am Chemistry”’s faux-claymation post-apocalyptic hellscape of a music video, saying, “Living in America, you're faced with presidential candidates talking about the end times, and everything is so God-laden. It became a theme for us when we were thinking about lyrics, reflecting on our culture and these big questions about religion." (Political forays are nothing new to the band after the stygian pulse of Fragrant World’s “Reagan’s Skeleton.”)

The track “I Am Chemistry” is a clever litany of poisonous substances set to a glorious, undulating synth rapture and Suzzy of The Roches adding vocal depth with a curious choral contribution. It’s quickly followed by the second official single and most unabashedly pop offering since Odd Blood, “Silly Me,” which opens with choppy acoustic stabs before sharply transforming into a full blown dance lament with the infectious refrain, “Silly me / Where’s my head / I can’t believe now it’s over / She would be here if it wasn’t for silly me.” With glittering admissions like "With crystal ball I now can see / That I'm a man of low degree," it's surely one of the most cheerfully upbeat confessions of guilt you'll ever have the pleasure of hearing.

“Half Asleep" pairs the gospel mantra of “Deliver me from evil” with Middle Eastern sitar-like tones before “Dead Sea Scrolls” breathes energetic groove into the ancient religious manuscripts that lend it their name, until climaxing and convulsing with a frantic primal scream of avant-garde robotic sax that I haven’t once been able to avoid turning up the volume for yet. It speaks to your primitive mind, but your primitive mind has long since been encased in a synthetic shell. With subsequent “Prophecy Gun” we get a gently frenetic beat and ominous bassline layered with vocals almost reminiscent of Paul Simon at his most soothing.

An ode to co-frontman Anand Wilder's daughter (whose birth, incidentally, postponed at last minute a Yeasayer gig I had crossed state lines to attend back in 2012), “Uma" provides their best slow dance since 2010's underrated “I Remember.” Complete with an instantly whistlable, quivering theremin melody played on a digital heartstring and heavy love letter lines of, “And in our overlapping lives / 30 years on either side / Never thought I’d be surprised that I’m alive when you’re alive,” and, “Hope I still can make you smile / When I get to be senile,” it's a piercing highlight that shows even adoration itself is firmly welded to the concept of time.

Amen & Goodbye is Yeasayer’s most heterogeneous body of work, both in terms of the patchwork of its sonic and textural peaks and valleys but also its blending of classic motifs with newly formed bizzarities in a way that never feels heavy handed or campy. Its mysticism and mythological character is scattered but strong like the fable of a universe that doesn’t exist yet, though the personal, poignant closer “Cold Night” grounds the LP with an honest attempt to come to terms with the loss of a close friend: “It’s been one year since you turned yourself back into dust / I guess this is life / You perish or you survive.” Some things never change no matter the context, chronology, or instrument used; life is finite whether ended in a biblical flood or fascist regime. “Was there something I could've told you?” Maybe not. Or maybe this is it exactly. Amen & Goodbye indeed.