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REVIEW: Yeasayer’s ‘Amen & Goodbye’

Since 2007, Yeasayer have been doing their own thing. From their debut album All Hour Cymbals, their breakthrough sophomore release Odd Blood in 2010, and their third record in the form of 2012’s Fragant World, they’ve just been getting by doing whatever sounds good to them – and the rest of the world. What I love about Yeasayer so much is that they offer up songs you wouldn’t have heard otherwise, thanks to a weird twist of fate putting them at the forefront of the indie world. They showcase experimental music, and people digest it as pop (or, art-pop perhaps), and they’ve done it yet again in their fourth record, Amen & Goodbye.

Feeling like two mini albums joined together, the two halves of the album are quite contrasting. The first half has singles I Am Chemistry and Silly Me, two of the more accessible, albeit still left-field, tracks on the record. In fact, most of the actual songs are slightly more accessible than their previous records. It could be that this was intentional, or now in 2016 we are just more adjusted to experimental bands, but it’s the sort of interludes interspersing the record here and there that really captures the experimental, off-kilter nature of Yeasayer. These interludes (Daughters of Cain, Computer Canticle 1 and Amen & Goodbye) serve as an opener, a middle break or even intermission and a closer, which gives the whole experience a cohesive, auto-pilot feel. In a record that is as much in the future as it is a nostalgic retrospective on what they’ve done so far, Yeasayer manage to be in two places at once with Amen & Goodbye– and whilst that may sound like a big, glitchy mess, it is actually quite the opposite.

Although there are indeed tracks we could do without, or at least effects we could do without like lead singer Chris Keating’s vocals in Half Asleep making him sound like a cartoon gypsy menacing children passing by, overall this is a really great effort from the band. Odd Blood will always be number one for me, but I am always ready to share my love for this band around and Amen & Goodbye makes it really easy to do so. Not shying away from their love of pop, even back in 2007 when pop was still very much a dirty word, they have always stuck to their guns and it’s this uncompromising originality that has served them so well, and continues to do so here.

From the aforementioned singles, to my personal favourite Dead Sea Scrolls with its insatiable groove and “ba ba ba”s, the heat is on from the start. Constantly shifting and deviating when you least expect it, the diversity on this record is impressive to say the least. Seamlessly moving from funk to pop (and its many subgenres) to electro and more, they employ a vast range of unusual effects and instruments to make this record as unassuming as possible. Still maintaining their controlled chaos vibe, vocals are distorted, instruments like harpsichords feature heavily, and there is a certain “medieval” feel they go for throughout. Half Asleep and Child Prodigy are bizarre, Silly Me sounds like Phil Collins meets Vampire Weekend with matured and self-deprecating lyrics, Divine Simulacrum sounds like the soundtrack to a gamer’s twisted dreams, Gerson’s Whistle is a dramatic, emphatic jam, and Cold Night feels like the single that could have been. There is just so much going on here, but they pull it off with such ease that it almost feels natural.

A key change in process thanks to a cruel twist of fate resulting in a lot of their initial recordings lost after a leaky roof in their farmhouse had its way with their equipment meant the band employed a producer to work with the remains for the first time ever. Not saying they aren’t capable of doing this on their own (their previous three albums are testament to this), but it would be remiss to not point out just how “together” this weird and wonderful trip is, and leaves us wondering what we’d be hearing if that roof didn’t leak and lead them to back to that New York studio. However, that’s not what we’re here for and that’s not what we have. Instead, what we do have is 13 tracks of bizarre and brilliant indie experimental pop, expertly pulled off. Although the name would indicate this could be it for the band, there is something about this record that makes me feel like they’re only just hitting their stride now- which is really saying something. Amen & Goodbye is enough to turn even the strongest naysayers into Yeasayers.

Amen & Goodbye is out now. Read our interview with Yeasayer here.