Since 2010’s success with sophomore record Odd Blood, Yeasayer have been denounced as consistently underwhelming. Even then, between the trio’s first two albums, there stood a path of thorny critics calling the stylistic divergence of Odd Blood tracks from both themselves and from debut All Hour Cymbals (2007) wildly inconsistent. Brooklyn’s experimental pop sensations were Lucky Charms turned Frosted Flakes over the years, trying to find that sweet spot in psychedelics and high-fructose corn syrup.
Amen & Goodbye, Friday’s release via Mute, the band’s fourth, comes close, but it’s not homogeneous. It doesn’t sound like an era, the way chromaticism united All Hour Symbols, spastic instrumentation Odd Blood, and sad normalcy Fragrant World (2012).
Aye, Amen & Goodbye has been touched by everything and is, in turn, everywhere. Its religious allusions are wholly under the influence, weaving in and out of consciousness at each turn. It’s not a smooth ride, but it does roll forward.
Lead single, “I Am Chemistry,” for example, opens strong (“I’m an ACN and I’m DDT”) but switches midway (“My mama told me not to fool with oleander”) to an odd youthful piano-backed choir segment featuring Susan Roche. It doesn’t switch back; there’s no AB(A), and in this way it’s a cousin to Fragrant World misfit “Henrietta.” But now (like Adam and Eve?) these two singles have each other.
There does seem to be significant classical influence on Amen & Goodbye, more so than previous albums. Intro track, “Daughters of Cain” features piano accompaniment, jazzy at times and squeaky clean considering Yeasayer’s track record. Segments in the vocal line hearken to Queen, as the lyrics ask, “Are we little ghosts? / The neurons of the brain.” Between these two opening songs, Keating and Wilder’s songwriting abilities have not remained greatly steadfast.
“Silly Me,” the second promotional single immediately follows, with a tangy guitar hook. It’s the poppiest track present and (as it’s lyrics ironically portend) rather forgettable, besides marking the shift on the record to the more guitar-based, grab-bag backing Yeasayer is known for. But it comes in lurches, and by sixth track, “Prophecy Gun,” the instrumentals are back to quiet synth.
Eastern influence similar to that on All Hour Symbols is renewed on and courses through Amen & Goodbye, reverent in the polyphonic male and female vocal lines and horn solos of “Half Asleep” — a bit of a drip trip, really, at its reduced tempo, particularly after the upbeat “Silly Me.” The trip passes briefly through a lush, calm reprieve in “Prophecy Gun,” before entering a disruptive mid-album segue. There are no other “Computer Canticle”s, making the “1” tacked onto the end of the 28-second “Harlem Shake”-esque joyride’s title as baffling as the track itself.
Everything that follows this point is then either a mystery or remarkably boring. In the conceptual camp falls the winding “Divine Simulacrum,” the harpsichord interlude “Child Prodigy” (where classical influence contrasts sharply opposite the aforementioned electronic halftime show), and fourth lead single, “Gerson’s Whistle.” The remaining three tracks combined don’t seem to live up to any of these three and for that reason, I won’t delve into them.
Amen & Goodbye is ambitious — it appears, for most of its tracks, Yeasayer chose a concept and ran with it. Instrumental and thematic trends run in diagonal lines across the album; it’s cohesiveness is unconventional, like a loose braid woven with ribbons. And the ribbons aren’t really helping hold it together; they’re just there for show. This time, the HFCS is not as thick as it’s been in the past. Instead, the most accessible stretches are the smoothest parts, with the Lucky Charms scattered elsewhere in the weave.
It’s holy how the mixture holds at all and — as any chemist will know — heterogeneity is not usually pretty. But after the viscous flatness that was Fragrant World, we’ll say this one worked, if a little unexpectedly. Then again, it’s Yeasayer. We should’ve known those three had a mind of their own.
Article by Joanna Jiang